Bears, Hearts, Rainbows and More Spread Good Cheer in the COVID-19 Era

By Emily Rhodes

Teddy bear hunters Nate Gustavson (holding Julian) and his wife Danielle discover a stuffed animal that was placed in a Richmond District neighbor’s window. Kids and their parents have plenty of window suprises to discover throughout the neighborhood. Stuffed animals and drawings of rainbows are two of the most popular treasures waiting for the explorers. The family-friendly activity has become a welcome distraction and uplifting activity for families exercising in their neighborhood during the COVID-19 pandemic. Story on page 8. (This photo was taken before the mandatory face mask order was issued by the City.) Photo by Jonathan Song.

Some residents of the Richmond District have taken up bear hunting. 

No, there aren’t bears traipsing around the neighborhood. The bear hunters here – along with those in many communities worldwide as a response to the shelter-in-place order due to COVID-19 – hunt for teddy bears placed in the windows of residents as a way to give kids and adults a fun, light-hearted activity outside. 

Simply walk, bike or drive down almost any block in the Richmond, and bears can be spotted peering out of windows. The activity was inspired by the children’s book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. 

“I love walking around with my kids and spotting bears in windows,” Richmond resident Celeste Schnackenberg said. “It gives us something fun to do and helps us feel connected to our neighbors.” 

Schnackenberg sparked the idea for bear hunting with her original post on Nextdoor after she saw it posted to Facebook. 

“I had no idea how the idea would take off!” she said. “I’m so happy about how our community has come together to show support for one another during this difficult time.” 

A map of the bears in the Richmond was created by resident Kelly Low, who is a graphic designer and created the map from home.  

“There was a lot of unknown and fear when shelter-in-place started,” Low said. “I think safety really was key. This gave kids an outlet and something joyful to look for during this heavy, scary time.” 

Low said she has extra time on her hands for projects like this since COVID-19 has slowed business significantly. 

Low, who is now in her mid-50s, was born and raised in San Francisco. 

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. “It’s such a simple activity; I think it’s really brought the community together. I think there are people at home who can hear kids giggling outside; there’s that connection even though we’re a safe distance from each other.” 

Residents of a Richmond District home send a message of hope and love to neighbors by placing a teddy bear, a heart and a rainbow in their window. Photo by Jonathan Song.

To have a bear added to the Richmond map, simply post the location to Nextdoor and Low will add it. Low also created a map for Pacific Heights. A city-wide Google Map also exists, in which residents can add the location of their bear, rainbow, or other animal, as many different types of hunts have cropped up as well. Rainbows are especially prominent in the windows of the Richmond District.  

“We make it a point to discover bears, rainbows and other art projects, like chalk paintings on the sidewalks all around the Richmond,” said Peter Rothe, a Richmond resident since 1981, who raised his two kids here. “I love the idea of giving kids and adults something fun to discover.”

Rothe said he thinks sheltering-in-place is “an amazing opportunity to reimagine the kind of world we want. We can make our city and cities across the globe more people- and walking- friendly.” 

“SiPing (sheltering-in-place) is an act of love, an act of selflessness,” Rothe said. “I am not scared about catching the virus, but I am participating in SiP because of my elderly clients and neighbors and out of deep respect and gratitude for all those who are working to keep sick people alive.”

Teddy bear hunting is an act of community solidarity during an unprecedented time for everyone. 

Susan Penney is the Executive Director of Risk Management at UCSF. She was walking home from work when she began to see bears in windows. 

“How would a kid feel going through COVID?” she said. “It’s gotta be tough on parents who work to have that whole responsibility of schooling. Whatever the community can do to give them relief is what I was thinking of.” 

Penney, her husband, Dan Meagher and her 25-year-old son, Daniel Meagher, shared the story of the bear they put in their window. 

“We got this bear out of our closet,” Daniel said. “My parents took it on their honeymoon with them to Europe.” 

Daniel grew up in the same house they live in now and attended Saint Ignatius High School in the Sunset District. He lives in Austin, Texas but flew home before the shelter-in-place went into effect because his company had employees working from home before most did.  

This year will be Susan and Dan’s 30th wedding anniversary in August. 

“Sometimes [bear hunting] is the way I can get [my son] out for a walk,” said Brandee Marckmann, a volunteer advocate for housing rights and the mother of an 8-year-old. “It has been an incentive for kids to go outside since they’re going a little stir crazy inside. Anything we can do to bring cheer to kids right now and make them feel more seen is helpful.”

2 replies »

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this lovely story! At the end it says to visit this website for links to the map, but I could not find it. Can you please share? We would love to put our location on the map and have a copy for ourselves. Thanks so much!


    • Hello, Amber. Thank you for your comment. The original links we were provided are no longer working. It appears the original content was taken down from the web, for some reason. A search online did not turn up any maps for teddy bear hunting in the Richmond District. In the meantime, here is some information from an email sent by our photographer last month:

      I actually drove around earlier today in the Richmond. Surprisingly, it was quite easy to find teddy bears on the windowsill. Here is a list of places I saw these teddy bears,

      5450 California St @ 17th Ave,;

      170 17th Ave. @ California
      A few more are around on this block between Lake and California

      122 Funston @ Lake

      Across the street from 116 12th Avenue @ Lake
      Another one is just down the street

      Near the corner of 12th Avenue and Clement

      Across the street from 1618 Clement Street


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