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Coronavirus prompts stuffed animal safari

Many Franklin County folks have added bear hunting and going on safari to their lists of activities that can be done while maintaining social distancing – an adventuresome spirit sweeping communities across the country.

Carly Fowler Hellums, Red Bay resident and special education teacher at West Elementary in Russellville, said by about the 10th day of social distancing with her children, they were all feeling “super stir-crazy.” She decided to see if the “bear hunt” trend, in which community members put bears or other stuffed animals in their windows for young adventurers to find, could catch on in Franklin County.

“We all needed something different to do, something fun and safe,” she explained, “and I loved the idea of it.”

After tagging a few business owners and other elementary educators in a public Facebook post on her account, she put a stuffed bear in her own window and started keeping a list.  She updates the post with new bear/animal locations across the county when people report them.

“My kids and I rode around in Red Bay, staying in the city limits, and counted 57 bears or animals,” Hellums said. “Some houses have four or five, sometimes even one in every window.

“My 2-year-old and 5-year-old love going on the search,” Hellums added. “This is a good way to show we are all still here and supporting each other while doing what we need to in order to stay safe.”

Hellums said she has received several messages from people saying the bear hunt was the first time they had been out of the house in days, and having something new to do was a welcome change.

Some of the Franklin County businesses with bears on display include Big Star in Russellville, Big Star in Phil Campbell, B&J Cafe in Phil Campbell, the Red Bay Police Department and the Red Bay locations of Community Spirit Bank, CB&S Bank and Swamp John’s.

Jamie Hutcheson Duboise son Miles, a third-grader at East Franklin, is another avid bear hunter. She said he loves riding around the neighborhood and finding everyone’s bears.

“I love that we live in such an amazing community that always supports each other in difficult times,” Duboise said. “This is a wonderful way to show we care.”

Lola Mays, a sixth-grader at Phil Campbell Elementary, said the bear hunt is “a great way to get out and have some fun while keeping our distance from other people. It’s fun to see how many you can find.”

Online posting of photos of found bears/animals is encouraged. Hashtags being used to help group them include #randomactsofcommunity along with #franklincobearhunt and #redbaybearhunt.