A bulldog in the window in the Takoma neighborhood of D.C. Credit: Jaime Willis

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What do a bulldog, monkey, bear, pink elephant, gray bunny, snow leopard, panda, and camel have in common? They’re all stuffed animals that Takoma neighbors have placed in their windows for families with young children to find when they’re out taking their walks around the block. Stuffed animal scavenger hunts are turning neighborhoods across America into Noah’s Ark. 

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While the District’s stay-at-home order takes effect tonight at midnight, walks for exercise or recreation with those you live with continue to be permitted, so long as you leave six feet between you and other groups when you cross paths. While stuffed animal scavenger hunts are no replacement for a trip to the National Zoo, Takoma neighbors are coming together to make these strolls more interactive and memorable.

Households who are participating leave their address, or at least their block, as well as what animal they’ve displayed in the scavenger hunt thread on the neighborhood’s listserv, which has more than 3,200 members. That way parents or caretakers with toddlers in tow know which blocks to traverse. So far, 13 neighbors are participating. There’s talk of expanding to Shepherd Park. 

A Takoma resident named Susan kicked things off on the listserv on Monday, even though her son is 17 years old. “That has its own set of challenges, but at least he can somewhat entertain himself,” she says. “I remember the rainy days of trying to keep young minds entertained. I don’t know how parents are trying to teach their kids and work at the same time. I thought this would be nice. Takoma has so many families.” 

Susan says she has 150 stuffed animals in the house that she plans to cycle through.

Afiya is one such Takoma neighbor who is trying to work from home and keep her two children cared for and stimulated. Playgrounds and schools are closed. She has help from her mother and her husband. They’ve come up with a schedule where everyone pitches in with childcare duties. 

“Now more than ever it makes sense to find things for kids to do,” Afiya says. She’s planning to take her kids on the scavenger hunt tonight. Because they’re too young to walk long distances, she’ll drive them.

Afiya says her school has done a great job at telling parents what resources are available to keep kids digitally entertained with educational programming. Not all D.C. families are as lucky as they endure the COVID-19 public health crisis. “It’s really exposing the digital divide,” Afiya says. “I feel so bad for people who don’t have access.”

Creative endeavors like stuffed animal scavenger hunts don’t require a computer or Wi-Fi hook-up, and bring people together while they have to otherwise stay painfully apart.