For many children, a small stuffed animal might be an item that is taken for granted. It might be something that many adults consider a token gift. But for children caught in the middle of domestic violence or other incidents that bring law enforcement to the door, it can make a big difference toward overcoming their fears or apprehensions.
That’s why the Highland County Prosecutor’s Office and the Highland County Prosecutor’s Victim Assistance Program are teaming up with police agencies across Highland County to ask local residents to donate to the Comfort Critters Campaign, which collects stuffed animals that will be distributed to law enforcement to carry in their cruisers, and then given to children who are involved in frightening or traumatic incidents.
“We have been to a lot of crime scenes and the kids are absolutely lost in the turmoil. It is so sad,” said Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins. “We have removed children from homes and the only thing they have had are the clothes they are wearing. When an officer arrives at a domestic situation or a traffic crash, a teddy bear can bring a lot of comfort to our most innocent victims. We are hoping to do that.”
On Thursday morning, police Chief Todd Whited from Hillsboro, Chief Tim Hester from Greenfield and Chief Tim Tyree from Leesburg were joined by Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera to kick-off the campaign. Also on hand were Collins, first assistant Prosecutor Molly Bolek and Niki Glispie, director-advocate for the Victim-Witness Assistance Program.
Over the years, many residents have donated stuffed animals to local law enforcement officers, who in turn have had the items on hand to provide to children. But the program announced Thursday will ensure that the “comfort critters” are always available and that all officers on duty will have them available in their cruisers.
“Hopefully we will be able to collect stuffed animals and keep this project going,” said Collins. “We would like Comfort Critters to be a permanent fixture in our county.”
The lawmen who were gathered Thursday all offered examples of situations where children find themselves innocent victims of frightening events, and the added intimidation of a police or sheriff’s deputy just adds to their sense of worry. When someone in uniform can comfort children with a smile and the gift of a “comfort critter,” it helps alleviate the fear, they agreed.
Collins, Bolek and Glispie said the same is true of children who find themselves in the court system after a parent or guardian is arrested, incapacitated or even killed. Collins said she has had children cling to a stuffed animal while testifying in court.
While all stuffed animals are welcome, the program is geared toward small to medium “critters” that can be used to fill boxes that will be carried in cruisers.
Boxes featuring a picture of a teddy bear have been distributed at local businesses to collect stuffed animals, including Magic Touch Salon, Larry’s Party Shop and The Times-Gazette in Hillsboro, Mane Street Salon in Leesburg, and the Highland County Prosecutor’s Victim Assistance Office in the Highland County Courthouse, and the Job & Family Services offices in Highland County.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.