TUPELO • About a week ago, Anna Polsgrove read an article about people around the country putting their Christmas decorations back up as a way to spread joy, hope and light during the new coronavirus pandemic.

With a little prodding, she was able to talk her husband, Russ, into putting their Christmas inflatables back up in the front yard. The Polsgroves have three children, 9-year-old Lucy, 8-year-old Rivers and 4-year-old Grace.

“Lucy said to put them six feet apart, because that’s all she’d been hearing while we’ve been staying at home,” Anna Polsgrove said.

Now, when you drive past the Polsgroves’ home on North Church Street in downtown Tupelo, you’ll see Santa Claus, a snowman, Elf and Snoopy in the yard, with signs saying “6 feet” and “Happy#SocialDistance.”

“Everybody has slowed down to see them,” Anna Polsgrove said. “They laugh, honk their horn, smile. We see them taking pictures. It is a scary time and people are anxious. Everybody is affected by this virus. It’s fun to see people smile, to spark a little joy. I’m so glad we did this.”

Russ Polsgrove said he’s not sure how long the inflatables will stay up, but he’s thinking at least until the national quarantine is over.

“We just wanted, I don’t know, at the very least to get people laughing or smiling when they drive by,” he said. “Anna turns everything into a celebration.”

The family is also participating in a “bear hunt” that started about a week ago in downtown Tupelo with a Facebook post from Carmen Cristo, who lives on Goodlett Street.

“I have a friend in Oxford who shared something on Facebook about doing a bear hunt that’s based on the children’s book, ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,’” Cristo said. The 1989 picture book, written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, was adapted from an American folk song.

“I reposted her post and tagged some people in it and Anna Polsgrove created a group on Facebook and it just blossomed from there,” Cristo said. “Now there are bears everywhere.”

Cristo and her husband, Drew, took their sons, 3-year-old Ellis and 7-month-old Ames, on their first bear hunt earlier this week. They walked through their neighborhood and counted the number of stuffed teddy bears they saw that people had placed in windows.

“People put bears in the windows because people want to see them,” Ellis said. He has put three bears in the front windows of his home.

The Cristos have been sheltering in place at their home for almost two weeks now.

“This is a way to give people who are stuck at home the opportunity to do something without putting people at risk,” she said. “About the only thing we can do is go on a walk.”

JB and April Clark, who live on Leake Street, put a stuffed bear in their front window Monday morning. They have two children, Shepherd, who is almost 3, and Austin, 9 months.

“We’re bored and we’ve got the kids at home,” he said. “We’ve built every Lego set imaginable. April saw something on social media about the bear hunt, so she told Shep that the next day, he was going on a bear hunt.”

April Clark arranged their hair in braids to resemble bear ears and donned her Grizzlies jersey and the family watched a National Geographic special on bears over breakfast. Then they went on a bear hunt.

“I think they saw 11 bears on Monday,” JB Clark said. “Shep said he saw a brown bear, a white bear and a pink bear. We went on a second bear hunt Wednesday and there were way more.”

The bear hunt isn’t limited to downtown Tupelo. Communities all over Northeast Mississippi – and the country, for that matter – have joined in the fun to ease children’s fears and give them a way to connect with their young friends at a safe distance.

Leah Mitchell said there are more than 250 people participating in bear hunts in different areas of Pontotoc. She and her husband, Robert, have four kids: 8-year-old Rhett, 7-year-old Zeke and 2-year-old twins, Sutton and Sawyer.

“We live out in the county and we don’t have any bears in our windows because nobody can see us from the road,” she said. “So it’s fun for us to go see what other people are doing.”

Mitchell loaded up her kids, drove into town and went to counting.

“We counted 70 bears on three streets – Water, Highland Drive and Lana – that are all just a couple of blocks off Main Street,” she said. “This is such a sweet thing. It gives people hope and it gives kids something to do.”

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