HUNDREDS of tiny bears have made their way to children’s wards across the region as part of an annual joint initiative by The Northern Echo’s sister paper Darlington & Stockton Times and Boyes department stores.

The appeal, which delivers stuffed toys to children’s wards, this year sent soft and cuddly polar bears to Darlington Memorial Hospital, the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton and the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

It is the 20th year the appeal has taken place, and this week saw the last of the sackfuls of cuddly polar bears arrive by special delivery at Darlington Memorial Hospital, handed over by staff from The Northern Echo.

Soft toys are donated by Boyes Department Store each year to help spread good cheer for sick children at Christmas. The appeal became an annual event after starting in 1999.

Robin Boyes, toy buyer for the firm and great grandson of the founder, William Boyes, said he is delighted to be involved in the project.

He said: “We are a family business and we have always wanted to do things which support the family. It is in keeping with the spirit of William Boyes, who believed in putting something back into the community.

“It must be awful to be in hospital at Christmas, and even worse for a child. It is a time for family and children, and as a family firm we are pleased to do anything we can to help.”

Katherine Kitching, multimedia advertising manager at Darlington & Stockton Times, said: “The children loved the soft and cuddly polar bears.

“We are thrilled to be able to make a small difference to those children who find themselves unwell, or in hospital this Christmas through the gift of a toy, and would like to say a big thank you to Boyes, our partners in the venture.”