It was cold — very cold — on Saturday when about 75 runners headed across the Buttonwood Street Bridge from West Reading to Reading to carry out an important mission.
Their instructions were simple as they gathered about 8:30 a.m. at the starting line at Seventh and Penn avenues: Runners were to each carry a brand-new stuffed teddy bear and deliver it to Opportunity House on North Second Street, their turnaround point in the city for the nearly 5-mile fun run.
As many as 70 runners took part in the second annual Teddy Bear Run.
“The runners were commenting it was cold, but it didn’t stop anyone from doing it,” said Zach Barker, manager of the running specialty store, Fleet Fleet, in West Reading, which partnered with Opportunity House for the charitable run. “We had a good time anyway, and the running got some body heat going.”
So did knowing where their precious cargo was going.
Opportunity House operates an emergency shelter with 35 beds for women with children apart from a shelter with space for 40 men. It also operates the Second Street Learning Center, which provides child care around the clock, seven days a week, serving working parents living below the poverty line.
Barker said his store has for years been hosting casual group runs with a Valentine’s theme around Valentine’s Day, but they would typically draw only a few dozen runners.
Last year, he changed it up by tying the Valentine’s group run to a charitable cause. The Teddy Bear Run was born, and it drew close to 70 participants the first year.
“We had one of the best turnouts we’ve ever had for a group run,” he said.
The teddy bears provide a tangible element, Barker said.
“I think … that helps people understand the reality a little bit better,” he said.
Kate Alley, Opportunity House chief development officer, was touched by the tenderness with which the runners handled the teddy bears as they filtered through the lobby.
“They were putting them on the table together like a family of bears,” Alley said and she and other workers gathered the teddy bears. “People were really delighted to be running with the bears. Some of them tucked them under their coats. It was just precious to see.”
Some of the teddy bears also will be go to Opportunity House program, the Children’s Alliance Center, which conducts forensic interviews for children suspected of being victims of sexual abuse, Alley said.
“We are so grateful for the participants who came out in the freezing cold, and for Fleet Fleet,” Alley said.“To see all of the community support was wonderful.”