Christchurch mum's character-changing bear brings joy in lockdown

Rebecca Moore
Source: 1News

Sitting over the fence from her neighbour as they enjoy a lockdown-style glass of beer, Christchurch woman Alice McDonald ponders what kind of costume she'll dress her giant teddy bear in next.

Activities in Covid-19 lockdown are limited, but it's not just McDonald's family getting joy out of her new-found hobby - decorating a giant teddy bear as unique, and often hilarious characters.

The mum who works for events company Venues Ōtautahi, like many Kiwis around the country, cannot work under Alert Level 4, and with four-year-old son Finn Toth-McDonald, who goes to BestStart Aidanfield, to entertain she's putting her decorating skills to good use.

"Obviously when Covid hits it's devastating for the event industry," she said.

But McDonald is using her off time to bring a smile to the faces of those in her community.

Each night, she dresses the bear in a new costume, then in the morning around 8am she displays the new work out the front of her Halswell home.

"I've had quite a lot of people come past, it's good to help entertain families," she said.

"I do get a few people doing drive-bys and walking as far as they can. People ask 'where are you?' (on social media) and they walk and bike."

Amid Covid-19 last year, she displayed 45 different characters, ranging from a fisherman on a boat, Tiger King's Joe Exotic and canoe legend Lisa Carrington.

This lockdown she's back at it spreading joy to her community and beyond, already creating a prisoner, toilet-paper hoarding "Karen", Sunday church priest and her son's favourite movie character from Moana.

"It's a nice way to have social interactions, we're out there talking to people at the gate, socially distanced ... I'm just happy I've made other people happy and it's kept me going.

"It's not hard work but it's like wow, this is bringing people joy."

McDonald said she's got about 15 character ideas in the planning stages at the moment, and that she also gets lots of suggestions put to her for the next characters.

"It's all in my mind and I bounce ideas off my neighbour when we sit by the fence and have a beer and wine," she said.

"I like a good challenge."

However, while she's got lots of ideas bubbling, McDonald said she wouldn't do some displays if she couldn't use the items around her home to execute a look up to her standards.

But McDonald said different people had different favourites.

"Some of the simplest ones are quite cool."

The idea to create a new display each day in lockdown came about when people around the the world started to display teddy bears in their windows amid the Covid-19 pandemic - something families and children could enjoy on their neighbourhood walks.

But McDonald said people of all ages had been enjoying her displays, with one family on Monday morning video calling family in Australia to show off the Moana themed display.

"Overwhelmed and amazed," she said, when asked how she feels about the wide-reaching reception.

The bears have been enjoyed in Halswell, but also shared around the country and world.

To make good use of the popularity McDonald created 2021 calendars last year featuring her creations. She sold them for $15 each, including 15 to one woman in the UK who shared them amongst her family.

With the profits she raised almost $3000 for KidsCan - a charity dedicated to helping Kiwi kids affected by poverty.

KidsCan chief executive and founder Julie Chapman told 1 NEWS that when schools went back after last year's lockdown the organisation saw a huge increase in the number of children needing breakfast, snacks, and hot meals.

She said McDonald's funds helped to meet that need. 

"We're so grateful to Alice for choosing KidsCan for her generous donation from such a unique fundraiser. Lockdowns are extremely tough on children living in hardship, who often live in overcrowded homes without enough food to go around," Chapman said.

"We know this lockdown will be equally tough, and with schools closed we're working on other ways to get food to vulnerable children. People can donate at  www.kidscan.org.nz ." 

McDonald said if Christchurch goes past 12 days in lockdown again she'll look to create a 2022 calendar.

"Last lockdown was insane. I was sending calendars overseas to the UK, Australia; all the world knows what lockdown is. It's amazing how far it's stretched."

Send your news tips, and what you've been up to in lockdown, to Rebecca.Moore@tvnz.co.nz