Staten Island judge tops record in annual Teddy Bear Drive

By Carol Ann Benanti Staten Island Advance

Just when you thought he couldn’t break any more records, another year rolls around and this edition of Surrogate Robert J. Gigante’s 12th annual Teddy Bear Drive beats all the others.

The scoop is that nearly 1,000 of the adorable, fluffy creatures were collected, half for distribution to those who suffered harrowing experiences as a result of Hurricane Sandy, through the Carl Vincent Bini Foundation, and the other half to the American Cancer Society, for children afflicted with cancer.

Over the years some 5,000 bears have been distributed.

And once again, Gigante partnered with Richmond County Court personnel, the behind-the-scenes folks who rise to the occasion year after year, including court officers, clerks, staffers and friends, who collect teddy bears for donation.

“Two things happened this year,” said Gigante, “the expansion to include the victims of Hurricane Sandy to be distributed through the Carl Vincent Bini Foundation and the other half to the American Cancer Society.”

Gigante’s chambers were brimming with bears of all types, colors, shapes and styles, some animated and others that sing — so much so that two other storage spots had to be employed to keep them intact.

“We couldn’t even display all of them in the photo,” says Gigante, “because there were such an abundance, due mainly to the exposure we received through the Inside Out column, through friends and on Facebook.”

Gigante points out that the teddy bears vary greatly.

“There were Christmas bears, traditional teddy bears, real bears in the rough, and Build a Bear, some of which consisted of a police officer and firefighter bear — and every conceivable type of bear — because of the overwhelming generosity of Staten Island that has shined through again.”

What’s more says he: “To receive nearly, 1,000 bears is truly unbelievable. And with a number of kids not looking forward to a Merry Christmas, the bears couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Gigante explains that with every adoption he handles, he presents the child with a teddy bear.

“It’s hard not to love and resist those little furry creatures — and in a way I hate to see them go. They were my friends for the week,” Gigante chuckles.

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