FAIRBORN, Ohio (WDTN) – Lines stretched out of the Build-A-Bear store at the Mall at Fairfield Commons the week of Christmas, but the people lined up were not getting gifts for their own children.

The 12th annual event invites the community to come to the store to purchase and decorate the stuffed bears. Each purchased bear is then boxed up and sent to a child staying at Dayton Children’s Hospital during the holiday season. 

The event has donated more than 1,500 bears to children over the past 12 years. Officials said the project has grown each year since beginning and that this year would easily surpass previous year’s donations. 

“It’s huge this year,” said event coordinator Callista Hess, referring to the extended wait to build the bears and the increasing number of families coming to donate. 

“My family started this,” said Hess, who began donating when she was in second grade, “I’ve been doing it the whole time, we started out with 12 bears and it was just me and a few family members.”

People at the event said they began donating years before and have returned each year because of the joy it gives to them and their entire family. 

“I think it’s a great thing,” said Tammy Bondurant, who was returning for her fifth year. “I have four kids of my own and I know if they were in the hospital during the holidays that it would be hard, so I like being able to help families that are in a rough situation.” 

In earlier years, Bondurant said she only had to wait 20 minutes to donate, but now it has grown to the point that it took over an hour because of the long line. 

Returning customers said they did not mind the wait and took it as a positive sign that the community is reaching out to help one another. 

“Everyone involved gets something out of it,” said Hess, “The patients are helped through a tough time in the hospital. Everyone here gets the joy of knowing they’re going to make someone happier and brighten their day.” 

Officials did not have an exact number of bears donated this year, but said they believed it would be close to 500.