HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) — When 52,341 stuffed animals pile onto the ice in the 20th annual Teddy Bear Toss, the spectacle captures nationwide attention. But after the bears leave the rink, what happens next and where do they go?
The Hershey Bears annual Teddy Bear Toss game is always a sold-out crowd, with each fan carrying an average of five plush toys. After Bears forward Axel Jonssan-Fjalby netted the first goal of the game, thousands of bears rained down from the stands inside GIANT Center.
Mountains of cuddly toys line the arena, before volunteers bagged them up to be counted in the back. It took hours for all the toys to be recorded, but before the final horn sounds, a new world record was announced. In 2022, the Bears beat their own record from 2019.
And that’s usually the last time people think about where those bears go. But the work that happens after the game is over and the volunteers go home is what really drives the mission.
In the mornings to follow, 25 organizations make there way to the GIANT Center to pick up bags of bears to be distributed to the community. The organizations are all in Central PA including Dauphin County Children and Youth, Cocoa Packs, Boys & Girls Club of Harrisburg, Palmyra Lions Club, and Autism Society Greater Harrisburg Area. Additionally, with Hershey setting a new world record, The Sweigart Family Foundation has made a donation of $50,000 to benefit Children’s Miracle Network.
Organization Spotlight: What is Cocoa Packs?
Among the organizations is Cocoa Packs, who uses the bears around the year to bring joy to the kids they help.
Cocoa Packs mission is to ensure that all children in Derry Township School District and the surrounding area are food secure every day of the year.
There are three branches of the Cocoa Packs organization: the Food Rescue, Clothing Closet and Presents, giving gifts around the holidays to families in need.
The organization has helped students in schools in 17 districts and currently has 1,400 students enrolled for weekly food distributions. Cocoa Packs also helps 300 children from the Cocoa Packs Clothing Closet.
Christine Drexler started the organization in August 2015 after noticing the changing demographic of Derry Township and seeing how many students went without nutritious meals.
As part of the club’s Hershey Bears Cares initiative, showcasing the philanthropic and volunteer efforts of Bears players and staff members, the stuffed animals are collected and donated to community organizations.
In its 20 year history, the club has collected 322,199 teddy bears since 2001. The 2021 total of 52,341 toys collected surpasses the club’s previous world record of 45,765 from 2019.