Ebenezer Scrooge didn’t come to Star Financial Bank on Thursday. Rumor has it that he dislikes teddy bears — even the softest ones.

However, there were Madison County police officers and firefighters. This group came to 735 Main Street for a common focus: get bears to their destination to be on hand for traumatized children.

Alice Huffman, Star Financial receptionist, came up with Bears for Badges four years ago. She saw other Christmas programs being too commercialized, she said.

“All the kids worried about what they were going to get,” Huffman said. “So, I said to Sue (Gayle) instead of giving kids gifts, how about they give something.”

So, children gave bears and Santa returned the favor with candy.

The program has been growing steadily every year. It started as a initiative for all of Madison County, but Star Financial’s marketing got involved, making the program statewide.

In 2001, 700 bears were collected. Now, the total for all years combined is 12,000. The Anderson region had 380 bears collected to go out.

Bears for Badges’ participants start fundraisers, check out and hold rummage sales and visit Goodwill for these stuffed animals.

“We’ll do anything to get a bear besides running naked down the street,” Huffman said.

“Or, do calendars,” added Gayle, Star Financial’s internal auditor.

“It’s a great program,” said Alexandria Fire Chief Mike Hensley, who took 20 for Alexandria. “Plus, it helps us out to have bears for kids involved in auto accidents or experienced some type of trauma.”

Before his department could hand out its first bear, Hensley said he’ll be back annually as long as the town can get them.

It’s what Madison County Sheriff’s Department Major Ron Richardson does each year. He’s quite familiar with Bears for Badges.

“It’s a sign of happiness,” Richardson said. “We all relate to bears as being a friend. Everyone loves a teddy bear.”

Richardson took 50 for Chesterfield and 10 for Summitville.

Soon-to-be Anderson Fire Chief Phillip Rogers was present and he’s just warming up.

“I’ll call you a lot when it comes to bears,” Huffman said to Rogers.

Star Financial employees will accept all sorts of bears from anyone willing to give. But, a couple of them have seen a few characters enter their doors.

“I like the Hallmark bears,” Gayle said. “They have the Velcro hands. But, I also like the ones that say prayers. We are amazed at the number of different kinds, sizes and colors.”

“I really like these white ones because they’re so soft and have the Velcro hands on them, so children can wrap around their neck,” Huffman said.

Nevertheless, Gayle and Huffman know it’s not about them. When it comes to Bears for Badges, children have greater influence.

“You have some kids that are so traumatized they can’t talk,” Huffman said, “but you give them a bear and they feel better.”

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