The Teddy Bear Express is ready to roll.
At least the hundreds of teddy bears that will find new homes across Somervell County and into the loving arms of children who live beyond its borders are ready. And so is the Teddy Bear Princess, Reese Andersen.
The 35-foot float that will take them from the elementary school and through downtown Glen Rose and to Christmas in the Park on Saturday, Dec. 5, will begin to take shape in the coming days, according to the "Teddy Bear Lady," Glen Rose resident Eva Hanke who began organizing the effort last year.
Hanke started collecting teddy bears for Mr. and Mrs. Claus to distribute at the city's Christmas celebration and before she knew it she had almost 300 for the 2011 celebration.
As the float carrying teddy bears, the Clauses, Hanke and other elves and the community choir rolled into the park, Hanke said she was amazed by the number of children gathered there.
"I had never seen so many children in one place," she said, estimating there were 250-300 awaiting Santa's arrival. "We gave out every teddy bear and all of the children were so polite.
Each child who patiently waited in line to share their wish lists with Santa was allowed to select a teddy bear and each thanked him for the furry friend.
"Last year, as we were getting ready to close, I kept saying please don't let us have another child, we were out of bears," Hanke said, adding one little boy made a last minute stop to sit atop Santa's lap. "Then I realized there was one bear left, a really big bear and he got to take it home."
While last year's supply of bears almost ran out, Hanke said she ramped up her collection efforts this year and community members began delivering teddy bears to her residence.
"I thought to myself that this year, we would have to have more and we do - almost 800," she said. "I started collecting teddy bears in January. I buy them when I see a good deal, and I will come home and find a box or bag-full waiting. I am so grateful for every one of them."
Hanke said when she moved to the city from Dallas about eight years ago, she was afraid she wouldn't find her place in "a little country town," but has since proclaimed she will never leave.
"I was afraid I would be lost and not know anyone, now I know everyone and they all know me," she said. "And since last year, as I go walking down the street, children recognize me as the 'Teddy Bear Lady.' And that makes me feel so good."
Many community members have questioned this year's effort asking Hanke what she is going to do with 800 teddy bears, but she said she has plan for each of them.
"They say there aren't that many children in town, but I know what I'm doing," Hanke said. "After the parade, Christmas in the Park will be held for two more weeks and all of the children visiting Santa will get a bear, not just those who get to be there for opening night. I am going to give whatever is left to the police and fire departments so they can have them to give to children who need them throughout the year."
And while the current age of video games and interactive toys might lead some people to believe teddy bears no longer have a place in children's toy boxes, Hanke said her idea is to give children a friend to cuddle - a toy that has withstood the test of time and will never get lost in a pile of play things.
"The teddy bear is now 110 years old," she said. "They are a tradition I believe is here to stay."
The Christmas parade will begin at Glen Rose Elementary School at 6 p.m. with the Christmas in the Park featuring Mr. and Mrs. Claus and the Teddy Bear Express beginning at 7 p.m. See the complete schedule of events for the Glen Rose Light Up the Town Christmas Celebration inside.