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News Room: ENQUIRER: Bikers, bears brighten children's spirits

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By: Melissa Stewart

The Boone County Senior Center transformed from an activities hub into a teddy bear assembly line as volunteers tagged and boxed 1,000 stuffed animals this month.

The bears, purchased by the American Legion Riders Boone Post 4, based in Florence, will be donated to St. Elizabeth Florence for children who receive treatment at the hospital’s emergency room, outpatient services and inpatient facilities.

“It’s satisfying work,” volunteer Evelyn Ganci of Burlington said as she punched a tag, identifying the donor, through a bear’s ear.

Ganci is a member of the senior center located inside the R.C. Durr YMCA in Burlington. When she and other members were looking for service project ideas last year, Ganci suggested the Legion Riders’ Teddy Bear Run.

The Teddy Bear Run to deliver the bears will be Saturday, Aug. 3. Registration starts at 10 a.m. at the Legion hall, 8385 U.S. 42, Florence; kickstands will be up at noon. The public is invited to join the ride. Motorcyclists will travel to St. Elizabeth, 4900 Houston Road, Florence.

This year participants are invited to participate driving their vehicles as well. They can stuff their cars with the bears and, in a separate run, will follow a U-Haul aptly named “The Teddy Bear Express.”

“Everyone is welcome to come,” said Legion Riders secretary Karron Rouse. “We’ll also have a dinner afterward at the hall. For a $5 donation that goes toward next year’s bears, you’ll get an all-you-can eat buffet. It’s good food, provided by Muggbees.”

The Legion Riders, comprised of veterans who enjoy riding motorcycles, focus on giving back to the community and fellow veterans.

“Our goal is to serve the community and veterans,” Rouse said. “This is a great (community project). It shows that anything can be accomplished. We’re a small group of about 20 people and we can put together something like this. We’re donating 2,000 bears this year. Can you imagine what getting a bear will do for a child in the hospital.”

The riders take up bear and monetary donations throughout the year. The Boone County Senior Center became involved this year when it hosted a holiday sale to raise funds to purchase the bears.

“My mother passed away just a year ago,” said center coordinator Diana Tripp. “She had a lot of Christmas-themed items that were new. She loved shopping for Christmas. My brother and sisters and I decided that we’d take everything that was new or in good shape and donate it to the center to have a holiday sale.”

With the money raised, the center was able to help the Legion Riders purchase 325 bears. The bears are purchased each year at a discounted price from Galerie USA, a candy factory outlet in Hebron.

Senior center member Shirley Bogle of Burlington said she’s enjoyed being a part of the project.

“I feel useful,” she said. “It makes me feel good knowing that the little kiddies will feel a little bit better when they get their bear.”

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