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Stephanie Laurin of Pelham places a teddy bear into the collection bin in the lobby of the Salem Icenter Saturday night. As part of Operation Fuzzy Wuzzy, members of the Windham-Pelham and the Alvirne High School boys' hockey teams will soon ship the bears to Newtown, Conn., where they'll offer some comfort to the survivors of this month's deadly school shootings. (APRIL GUILMET/Union Leader Correspondent)

'Operation Fuzzy Wuzzy' collects teddy bears for Sandy Hook

SALEM - Though rivals on the rink, members of the Alvirne High School and the Windham-Pelham Wolfpack boys' hockey teams joined forces last weekend to send a bit of holiday warmth to the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

During Saturday evening's game at the Salem Ice Center, members of both teams and their parents collected teddy bears of all shapes and sizes in hopes of offering a bit of comfort for the tragedy's young survivors.

Dan Molinari, a fourth-grade teacher at Windham Center School and coach of the Wolfpack, said the idea of having a stuffed animal drive "was kind of a group effort" that arose during a discussion with his teenage teammates.

Last week a Connecticut group began collecting teddy bears for the traumatized children after learning of a similar collection that took place nine years earlier, when a group of Marines collected teddy bears to send to foreign schoolchildren who'd witnessed a tragic shooting in Bezlan, Russia. Organized by the mothers of two fallen Marines, Operation Fuzzy Wuzzy has collected hundreds of teddy bears for the grieving students of Sandy Hook, as well as funds to assist in counseling services for those in need.

Molinari said he and his students were touched by the generosity of strangers in response to an unthinkable tragedy.

"As a team, we knew we wanted to help them out somehow," he added. And with that one little ripple of kindness, the local branch of "Operation Fuzzy Wuzzy" was formed.

As word spread, Molinari's co-workers began bringing teddy bears to school all last week. All 20 members of the Wolfpack soon followed in their coach's footsteps, reaching out to their friends and family members to share in their efforts.

By Saturday evening, their peers at Alvirne High School echoed those good deeds, and around 50 teddy bears were collected well before the two teams faced off on the ice. Windham parent Linda Adams got into the spirit of the event by placing an overflowing box of bears inside the penalty box, while others signed personal messages on an oversized greeting card.

Molinari said a group photo of the two hockey teams would be tucked inside the box and shipped to Connecticut sometime in the coming days.

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