Franklin County residents stepped up to the call to donate stuffed animals to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.
Sheriff Steve Pelton said deputies put out the request last week for more plush toys that can be given to children during emergencies or other stressful situations. Since then, the department has received donations of about 400 stuffed animals.
“We put out a call last week and within days probably there were 400 brought in,” Pelton said. “We have gotten an overwhelming response — everybody in the community is so giving.”
The animals are handed out by deputies when they arrive at a scene and children are present. They are given during domestic situations, vehicle crashes or when a child is at the Franklin County Jail visiting an inmate.
“These settings can be upsetting for a young child and the animals help relieve a little stress,” Pelton commented.
“They are used at any event that is stressful to a child to help bridge the gap,” he added. “It is a win, win. The youth are our future.”
Children who are involved in a domestic situation when law enforcement are called are put into a tough spot.
“They are scared and there is uncertainty,” he explained. “An act of kindness costs nothing and leaves them in a better place.”
Pelton noted that the practice is not new but deputies have been giving out more animals in the past year than previously.
“We’ve been doing it for a while, it is the right thing to do,” he said. “Within the last year we have gotten more aggressive and given them out more frequently.”
According to Pelton, Melissa Dahms, a clerk at the sheriff’s office, has been instrumental in creating the pen for the animals.
“We hand out stuffed animals to the kids who need a little cheering up and instead of having buckets and bins scattered around the office why not have a pen?” Dahms said. “I got to thinking about things I’d see online and our little pen was born.
Dahms added the pen has castors so that it can be wheeled out for the children to pick out a “critter” while visiting the jail.
She noted the community donations were a great sight.
“People are so wonderful to think of others, especially when they are thinking of the kids of the community, they take the time out of their life to bring us animals for the kids so why not keep them in a nice, accessible place,” Dahms said. “The deputies can refill their cars as needed and the detention deputies can easily get to them.”
She and her husband put together the frame from some wood they had left from a home project and he stained it. At the sheriff’s office Maj. T.J. Wild helped Dahms install eye bolts, rope and castors.
The animals come at no cost to taxpayers because they are donated by the public.
Giving stuffed animals to children is part of a larger initiative to reach out to youth in the county, Pelton added.
That includes the recent open doors activities that were held at school in Franklin County.
Earlier this month, local law enforcement agencies wrapped up a semester of greeting students outside the front doors of schools as part of the open doors program.
It began in February for the sheriff’s department when it teamed up with the Union Police Department to greet children before school at Union R-XI District schools.
The program has since expanded to include 15 schools in the county, and the deputies partnering with police officers from more agencies including Washington and St. Clair.
The goal of the program is to not only greet students as they start their day, but to build positive relationships with those in uniform.
“That kind of stuff pays dividends,” said Pelton. “It builds relationships between children and law enforcement officers so they know that we care about them.”
Some students have a negative perception of law enforcement either because their parents or family members have had interactions with law enforcement or because they may have seen bad images on television.
This program helps dispel myths about officers.
“The smiles on their faces are priceless,” Pelton said. “It really helps to get the day off on a positive note.”