Gwinnett Gladiators players help pick up some of the thousands of stuffed toys thrown on the ice when the team scored its first goal of the game against Orlando on Saturday. The critters donated for the annual Teddy Bear Toss go to area children in need. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)
DULUTH — Last year, the Gwinnett Gladiators collected 135, 30-gallon bags of stuffed toys at their annual Teddy Bear Toss Night.
And one that was too big for a bag.
“A giant hound dog,” Director of Community Relations Jim Hall said with a laugh. “I couldn’t even fit it in the front seat of my truck.
“You have no idea, until you start going through these things, the color and sizes and shapes and fins and antlers. It’s really remarkable. And new ones with tags on them always make you feel good because somebody made the effort to go out and buy one, which I think is very cool.”
The event, held every year since the Gladiators started playing here in 2003, usually brings in 4,000 to 5,000 stuffed toys that are donated to children in need around the metro area. Andy Brandt, the team’s all-time leader in games played and now the assistant coach, for years has made a trip down to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to hand deliver some of the toys. But many, many other groups and agencies benefit from gifts brought by the Gladiators’ giving fans.
“Every year they amaze us with their generosity,” Hall said. “It’s remarkable to watch these things fly down from the heavens and see the smiles on people’s faces.
“We make sure they know they’re being put to good use and going to kids that really need a warm hug and a fuzzy something because in their life it’s the greatest thing in the world. We are just very, very grateful for the participation.”
This year, one of the biggest crowds this season, didn’t have to wait long to show its generosity.
Animals rained down in a fluffy patter just 10 minutes and 29 seconds into the game when Dirk Southern burst straight down the middle of the ice and buried the puck in the back of the net.
Over the last decade, more than 50,000 toys have been donated. In 2005, nearly 6,000 alone went to areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.