From left, Clayton County police Deputy Chief Chris Butler, Delaney Gosart, Amanda Gosart, MacKenna Gosart, John Gosart and Lt. Marc Richards with the nearly 800 stuffed animals collected at Community Christian School in Henry County. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
JONESBORO — MacKenna Gosart, 12, has spent most of her life listening to her dad tell stories about working the streets of Clayton County as a patrol officer.
Now a detective, John Gosart has tailored the experiences he shared with his young daughter. And one account stuck with her.
“When he was an officer on the road, he used to carry stuffed animals in his car if he came into contact with children,” she said. “But it got too expensive because he was doing it on his own.”
Clayton County police Deputy Chief Chris Butler agreed that it was not unusual for patrol officers to carry the toys to soothe frightened children but there wasn’t a resource for them to draw from.
During an advisory group meeting at her Henry County school, Community Christian, the leader suggested that even students Gosart’s age can make a difference.
“I talked to my dad and decided to do this,” she said. “From Nov. 5 to Nov. 8, we set boxes throughout the school to collect gently used or new stuffed animals.”
Her goal was to collect 200. By the end of the drive, she’d counted 760.
“I just thought, ‘Wow,’” she said. “It was like, ‘Oh my.’ I was really surprised that even the younger kids were able to share what they have. I thought they would want to keep what was theirs.”
Instead, MacKenna Gosart was smart enough to see the children knew the impact of what they were doing.
“They realized they’re fortunate to have enough toys that they can share with other kids who may not have any,” she said.
John Gosart said he and his wife, Amanda, are proud of their older daughter. They are also parents to Delaney, 8.
“She said she felt led by God to do something for the community and for the children,” he said.
MacKenna got permission from her principal to set out the boxes and her dad got approval from Chief Greg Porter to accept the animals. Lt. Marc Richards called MacKenna “a humanitarian.”
“She’s a humanitarian ahead of her years,” said Richards. “She is a selfless young lady and we’re extremely grateful for her efforts and the Gosart family.”
Butler said the animals will be used by uniformed patrol officers who come into contact with children in car crashes, fires and other frightening situations.
“They deal with children in environments where a toy can be a joy,” he said. “They also have to gain the trust of child victims. A stuffed animal could bring happiness and joy and help the children get back to reality after a tragedy.”
Detectives in the Major Felony Unit handle more serious cases where children are traumatized to the point of not being able to communicate.
“These animals can assist the detectives in breaking down walls and comfort (children) when they are speechless,” said Butler.
Once MacKenna got the drive going, she contacted friends and relatives living out of state who also contributed.
“She did an excellent job,” Butler said. “We’ve had people donate toys to us before for the same purpose but we’ve never received anything like this before.”
Amanda Gosart said MacKenna organized and publicized the drive on her own.
“She went to the principal, she made the flyers, she contacted the school to get the process going,” said Gosart. “She did it all. We’re very proud of her.”
The Gosart family, including MacKenna’s grandmother, Joanne Lingle, all from McDonough, brought the nearly 800 stuffed animals to the Clayton County Police Department Wednesday.
MacKenna said she’d like to continue the spirit of giving into the Christmas season but hasn’t settled on a specific plan yet.