By Beth Donze
A week before the Christmas break, bears of all colors and sizes sprawled across the gym stage at Our Lady of Prompt Succor School in Chalmette, each a heartfelt and huggable gift destined for a child in need of some comfort.
The furry “den” was corralled by the OLPS student body for the New Orleans Police Department, whose officers give a teddy bear to the traumatized young children they encounter while doing their jobs.
The students ultimately collected 275 bears to give to the NOPD.
OLPS seventh grader Allison Cochran came up with the idea for the Advent collection when she and her younger sister Cameron, an OLPS second grader, were asked to donate one of their personal teddy bears to a drive their mother was organizing in her own workplace for the NOPD.
“That would have been only two bears donated by my sister and me, so I said, ‘How about I organize a drive at school? That way we can get way more,’” Allison said.
Allison asked her lifelong friend, neighbor and fellow seventh grader, Kathryn Kamlade, to help her pitch the idea to their principal, Annette Accomando.
Accomando said her first thought was: “How much is too much?” OLPS School had just completed four successful fundraising drives over the previous six weeks: Clothe-a-Child; Ronald McDonald Charities; and two “Hurricane” drives benefitting residents of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
“Then, I thought how close it was to Christmas, so my original answer was, ‘Let me pray and reflect,’” Accomando said. “But those wonderful girls didn’t let me off the hook that easily! I soon realized I was contending with not only Allison and Kathryn, but the Holy Spirit as well.”
Accomando granted her approval, under the condition that the two seventh graders would do all the work themselves: making the flyers, collecting the bears from the students and delivering the bears to law enforcement.
“At that point, we agreed if we had 50 bears the drive would be a success,” Accomando said. “Allison and Kathryn truly did all the work. It is so rewarding watching seventh graders develop a project and see it through. They are an inspiration to me!”
Students were asked to bring in new or gently used teddy bears of any size in exchange for a dress-down day.
“Whenever the police go pick up a child in a bad situation, they give them a teddy bear for comfort,” Allison said. “It makes me feel really good that something so simple can make such a difference in their lives.”
Beau Tidwell, the NOPD’s communications director, said the annual pre-Christmas drive began four years ago at Arnaud’s restaurant. Arnaud’s, in conjunction with the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, set up collection sites at the iconic restaurant and at locations throughout the region, including area schools.
Tidwell said the 2017 drive netted more than 1,300 bears. The plush animals are intended as a gesture of kindness for children who may be victims of or witnesses to a traumatic event, he said.
“It’s a way for officers to express, without words, comfort and support for children in a scary situation,” Tidwell said, explaining that the bears are distributed among the various police districts.
“Our officers have the discretion to offer these bears as a gesture of kindness and comfort to children they may encounter in the course of their work – that could mean on the scene of a crime, at a district headquarters or at a hospital.”
Tidwell said the drive relies heavily on donations from the community.
“In recent years, we have been overwhelmed with the response and the support from citizens in our community. Their generosity helps keep us well supplied!” Tidwell said.
“Giving children who may be dealing with a frightening situation one of these teddy bears helps build a rapport between our officers and the citizens they protect, and it gives the child a tangible sense of comfort and friendship to help support them as they recover from encountering or witnessing a traumatic event,” he added.
Accomando attributes her campus’ generosity to the many school families that “remember when they so vitally needed a hand-up” through their own difficult times. She said her parents are willing to give to “every drive that comes their way,” even if it means a little sacrifice.
“These drives assist others in ways we will never know, yet many of us remember that feeling of receiving in our time of need,” Accomando said. “Thus, the universal church is caring for all of us in our time of need,” she said, noting that the collection’s timing during Advent forced OLPS students, parents, faculty and staff “to focus on others in their time of waiting.”
“It was very rewarding to see students exiting their cars and getting their school bags and laptops out, and then reaching back into the car for their teddy bear,” Accomando said. “I saw many students hugging their bears during morning assembly.”
Those interested in learning more about the annual Teddy Bear Drive are asked to contact the NOPD’s Public Affairs Office at 658-5858 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.