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(Photo by George Vogel)

A PLUSH HOLIDAY SURPRISE: Two-year-old Kendrick Barrera receives his bear donated by the Salvation Army through the Princeton Senior Resource Center. For the past 20 years, seniors have dressed bears for the holidays so they can be distributed to young children at the Princeton Nursery School. Santa and Harriet Teweles, a board member of PSRC look on.
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Using Cuddly Means, Senior Center Hopes to Bridge a Generation Gap

Matthew Hersh

They say love is the universal language, and that it's spoken in different forms, but to a toddler, it's a safe bet that the universal language is "toys."

And while a tot might not be able to understand that love and toys can be one and the same, the adults who do the giving know how they feel when they see the enthusiasm of children receiving a gift.

Love can be loud when 44 children ages 2 to 5 receive a soft teddy bear simultaneously.

And when it's Santa who's giving out those bears, the sound of love can be hard to handle.

But it was worth it for all the teachers over at the Princeton Nursery School on Leigh Avenue last Thursday as the Princeton Senior Resource Center (PSRC) distributed hand-tailored teddy bears as part of its Annual Bear Project.

Begun 20 years ago, the annual event used to bring area seniors together to dress bears donated by the Salvation Army. Those bears would then be dressed, sometimes with handmade clothing, and given out around the holidays to children five and under at the Princeton Nursery School and at the Princeton Community Village.

But having begun as a program between senior citizens and children, the bear drive has turned into a community-wide project. Employees from other institutions, including those from Borough and Township municipal offices, have gotten in on the fun.

"As soon as the bears come in, they're gone," said Debbie Rogers of the Township Zoning Department. "People literally fight for them."

April McElroy, who has supervised the bear program for more than 15 years, said that while she's pleased that the project has become more of a neighborhood activity, she especially enjoys hearing of seniors who involve themselves.

"They love doing it," she said, and for many of the seniors, "it's their joy for the year."

Ms. McElroy said she wishes more people knew about the program. In the past, after the bears had been dressed, they were displayed in the front display window at the old Princeton Public Library. This year, however, the bears were not up for display.

"For all these years that I have been doing this, and all the years that I've been at the PSRC, too often I hear 'I didn't know'," she said, adding that having the bears on display is integral to keeping the program going. This year, she added, PSRC is looking for a storefront or some other in-town location that can accommodate such a display.

But that didn't matter to the 44 kids at the Princeton Nursery School. Harriet Teweles, the PSRC board member who will handle the bear program in future years, described what happens when the children get their new toy.

"They get a hold of the bear and the love goes right there," Ms. Teweles said, motioning to her heart.

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