From Winnie the Pooh to Paddington, teddy bears are a universal symbol for comforting a scared or worried child.
Perhaps this is why, during which 20 first-graders and six educators were murdered by a lone gunman, the world sent thousands of teddy bears to that community.
In our part of Connecticut, we also turned to teddy bears as a way to show our support for Newtown. In December, and in four days, nearly 100 local businesses across our 41 sites helped us collect about 4,500 stuffed animals.
About 2,000 of those collected went to Newtown, to be given as gifts at a townwide Christmas party that was organized for kids in town right before the holiday. But Newtown was overrun with bears, and we did not want to complicate the situation there.
So we turned to the Connecticut State Police and asked Public Information Officer Lt. J. Paul Vance if the department had any type of program that gave out bears to children at traumatic or upsetting crime or accident scenes. He told us that there used to be such a program that kept bears in each cruiser, but funding dried up.
And so Operation Snuggle II was born.
Today, Friday Jan. 25, a group of Patch editors packed up the remaining 2,500 bears where they were being stored in Manchester, and delivered them to the state Department of Public Safety headquarters in Middletown. From there, they will be distributed to each barracks in Connecticut, and to each cruiser. When the need arises, each trooper will have comfort on hand for a child in need.
Trooper Kelly Grant, a member of the CSP public information office, graciously welcomed us to headquarters Friday for the delivery. She told us a story about a recent car rollover in which two children had to be pulled from the car through the sunroof, uninjured but shaken and upset. The trooper at the scene had a stuffed animal in his cruiser and gave it to the children as they sat on the roadside.
"It made a big difference," Grant said. "It calmed them right down."
We hope it takes a long time for the Connecticut troopers to work their way through this collection of cuddly stuffed toys, but if and when they do start to run out, Patch will stage another Operation Snuggle collection in partnership with our awesome local businesses, and we will resupply.
A big thank you to Anytime Fitness, and Shear Timing Hair Salon, our local businesses that helped make this happen! And all of you, Montville!
We could not have done this part of the program without the kindness of Patrick and Mike Greene, owners of Greene Moving & Storage in Manchester, who took such good care of the bears over the holidays while we found them a new home.