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School kids donate stuffed animals to public safety

By Maria-Jose Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

Public safety workers are usually on the "giving end" when it comes to providing stuffed animals to comfort children, who have suffered an unfortunate or tragic circumstance.

Roles were reversed recently -- well, sort of -- when the children of Community Christian School, in Stockbridge, collected 1,000 stuffed animals and turned them over to the Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services Department, the Clayton County Sheriff's Office and the Henry County Fire Department.

"We wanted to have a representation of both counties, since we have a large amount of students that live in Henry and Clayton counties," said Noel Padan, development director for the school.

The law-enforcement and emergency-services agencies normally give stuffed animals to children who have been involved in a house fire, or have been injured, or are sick. Children may also be given a stuffed animal to help calm their nerves and put them at ease while they're accompanying a parent who must be transported by ambulance.

"People involved in those incidents are children, and sometimes, they don't know what is going on," said Battalion Chief Landry Merkison, of the Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services Department.

He said stuffed animals are great tools, because they allow emergency personnel to give children a bit of comfort that helps them believe that things are going to be OK.

"It was incredible what this school was able to put together, and it was very much appreciated," he said.

Captain Billy Kunkle, of the Henry County Fire Department, said the stuffed animals provide a child with security when they are coping with a tragic situation. It provides them with a positive distraction, from the present incident, he said.

"Just how grateful we are that the community [school] would do this, and it makes a huge impact on the life of a child, at that moment," said Kunkle.

Sgt. Sonja Sanchez, pubic information officer for the Clayton County Sheriff's Office, said the Special Victims Unit of the Sheriff's Office will give the stuffed animals to children involved in a variety of incidents, some related to domestic violence.

"This [stuffed-animal drive by the school] is a tremendous show of appreciation for the community," said Sanchez.

Padan, of Community Christian School, said this is the school's first stuffed-animal drive, and it has been "a tremendous success." The Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) initiated the event, she added.

The PTO began to collect stuffed animals from students at the school in the first two weeks of February, said Padan. Animals collected included teddy bears, Webkinzes, giraffes and horses, to name a few.

"By the end of the first week, I would say, we collected the first half [500 stuffed animals]," said Padan. "We were overwhelmed, and continued on to see what we could get, and doubled what we anticipated."

Padan said she first approached two parents, whose children attend the school. One worked for the Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services, and the other was employed with the Clayton County Sheriff's Office, she said.

She said she asked the parents if their employers would like to receive stuffed animals that students donated for the community. The parents relayed the message to their employers, who agreed to accept the donations.

The school contacted the Henry County Fire Department directly, and it also agreed to accept the stuffed animals, said Padan.

"That is what we want to teach our children ... It's not always about getting, but giving, and it always feels good to help others," she said.