A growing army of more than 120,000 teddy bears will soon be able to post how they're feeling as the Great New Zealand Bear Hunt becomes a symbol of connectedness amid social isolation.
Christchurch mum and part-time school administrator Deb Hoffman - who created the
We're Not Scared - NZ Bear Hunt Facebook page and supporting website www.bearhunt.co.nz - says the "mind-blowing" uptake of the idea showed Kiwis' need for social connection.
"It's a little bit mind-blowing that it's gone this massive now. I set the platform up but it's New Zealand that's doing it," she said.
The initiative encourages people to put a teddy bear in their window facing the road and allows people to pin the location so that youngsters can spot the bears. Bears are popping up everywhere in communities like Waihi, Whangamatā and Tairua.
A map of paw prints now covers New Zealand showing where more than 120,000 bears are, with many more in windows but not pinned to the online map.
"We've got a cul-de-sac and there are people sitting up there with their bear really engaging with the traffic going through," said Hoffman.
"One lady said she had just had surgery and was already isolated for six weeks before lockdown. She said it was the bears that are getting her through."
Hoffman originally used a Google map for people to post pins of their bear's location but built the website herself when the number of people taking part almost crashed the previous site.
She is working on other ways to help people's mental wellbeing through the bear hunt.
"We're now getting ready to run a gallery and update how their bear feels. They can click on 'happy', 'sad' or other emotions as we trying to incorporate a mental health and wellness aspect as people start to feel this a bit harder.
"It's pretty profound what we set out to achieve with people feeling connected beyond the isolation."
Hoffman has added video links with the message that it's ok to not be okay - to reach out to someone today.
Hoffman created the site free and while she has "dabbled" in marketing, is a part-time school administrator and mum to two children aged 11 and two.
Having lived with the events of her home city, she was acutely aware of humanity's need for connection.
"The journey that I've been through personally from being here in the February quakes, and everything else that has gone on in New Zealand since then, it has probably birthed what we're doing now - understanding the need for connection and how dangerous isolation can be for the human psyche.
"It is really concerning. It's about the emotional wellbeing of our people."
In Whangamatā, Tairua and Waihi, bears include a Policeman's assistant and a community newspaper reader bear who have taken up post to bring joy in the lockdown locally.
Whangamatā's Brian Pittams snapped shots of bears in Whangamatā homes.