Faces of Christmas: Thomas 'Bear' Campbell

December 24, 2013 

The basics: Thomas "Bear" Campbell, 61, is a respiratory therapist at Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno. He is a Vietnam-era Navy veteran and a widower with five grandchildren (and another on the way). He lives in Coarsegold.

What he does: Campbell buys 150 to 200 teddy bears and picks a day in December to deliver the stuffed animals to children at Poverello House and Community Regional.

He arrives in a Santa suit and white beard (real) on his red, Russian military motorcycle with sidecar serving as Santa's sleigh. On days in December when he's not working, he also volunteers to dress as Santa to take pictures with hospital employees.

Why he does it: "I like to make kids happy," he says. "And I already had the Santa suit because I play Santa Claus for my grandkids. And I had the sidecar and I could get some good use out of it and get some smiles on the kids' faces."

The turning point: Campbell saw an advertisement for motorcycle clubs making Christmas teddy bear runs, but his work schedule wouldn't allow him to participate.

He thought: "I can do that myself." In 2009, he started his own teddy bear deliveries to Poverello House and the hospital -- two stops not on the motorcycle clubs' delivery routes. He now has helpers -- one or two friends from the Street Royalty Motorcycle Club -- who accompany him as Santa's elves.

Details, details: Campbell times his teddy bear run to Poverello House for lunchtime. Poverello House, a private, nonprofit organization, serves 1,200 to 1,400 meals a day to men, women, children and families at its F Street location in Fresno. There is no shortage of children at the hospital -- each year more than 56,000 children are treated there.

What others say: "I've always known him to have just a good heart," says Campbell's boss, Wil Caliwag, director of respiratory therapy at Community Regional. "Bear's like one, big teddy bear."

How you can help: Anyone wishing to donate teddy bears can contact Campbell via email at wildbear@sti.net.

-- Barbara Anderson

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