Celebrate OktoBEARfest with Hamlin 5K

The Bears Who Care organization is hosting a fun run and book fair to raise funds for buying books and teddy bears for West Orange County children.

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Kari and Tad Schmitz wanted to give back to their community, so they started brainstorming ideas. The Summerlake residents came up with the Bears Who Care organization, which raises money to provide books and teddy bears to ill and disadvantaged children.

They decided on books since both of Kari’s parents were educators, and they chose bears because Tad’s grandfather’s name was Teddy.

“We enjoy bringing comfort to the children with the teddy bears, and we’re also inspiring them to read, like my mom did,” Kari said.

Kari Schmitz reads to kindergarten students at Maxey Elementary.
Kari Schmitz reads to kindergarten students at Maxey Elementary.

“We have huge hearts for children and wanted to find a way we could touch the lives of those in need while also honoring our family,” she said. “We look forward to this journey and hope to bring happiness, comfort and education to young lives in our community.”

She recalled the day she spoke to a classroom and the children received their books and bears, hugging the stuffed animals tight.

“One little kid said, ‘I’m going to read my new story to my new friend,’” Kari said.

The Schmitzes have been doing this charity work for about a decade.

“Over time, we’ve given probably 11,000 teddy bears and books,” Kari said. “We started with 50 bears and 50 books. … Last year, we did around 2,500. So, the main purpose of the event is to fundraise for the charity to be able to provide the bears and books.”

They make regular visits to Orlando hospitals and some of the area’s lower-income schools, and always make time to read to the children.

The organization is launching Bailey, a new teddy bear, at the Oct. 20 5K race and festival. For every Bailey bear that is purchased for $20, three children will receive a book and bear.

The free festivities will include a Scholastic Book Fair, silent auction, food stands, raffles and games. A kids’ race will take place following the 5K.

The cost of the 5K is $30 for adults and $25 for children ages 4 through 12 and includes a T-shirt and finisher medal. To register, go to runsignup.com/Race/FL/WinterGarden/BearsWhoCareOktoBEARfest5KFunRun.

Awards will be given for best overall male and female, as well as first, second and third place in various age groups for male and female.

This event will be chip timed. Pre-race packets can be picked up Oct. 18 and 19 at Axiom Bank, 16418 New Independence Parkway, Suite 100, Winter Garden.

A donation box will be available for anyone wanting to take new books for ages 1 to 14.

In addition, a Scholastic Book Fair will take place, and people can buy books to donate or take home.

“Scholastic gives dollars back to us,” Kari said. “They give us a portion of the sales in the form of Scholastic dollars. It’s just a win win win.”

To learn more about Bears Who Care or to get involved, visit bearswhocare.org.




Amy Quesinberry

Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.

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