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Campaign makes tough times bearable for kids
Stuffed animals to go to children in difficult situations
Bonnie Griffith, a child support agent with the Department of Child Support Services, sorts a room full of stuffed animals Wednesday for the Bearable Hugs for Georgia’s Children campaign in Gainesville. The campaign collects stuffed animals from the community to give to children receiving care at pediatric facilities throughout the state, women’s shelters, law enforcement agencies and other children’s organizations. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Bearable Hugs for Georgia's Children Campaign

What: Collecting new stuffed animals, though slightly used animals will be accepted
Where to donate: Gainesville Division of Children Support Services Office, 465 E.E. Butler Parkway, Suite 2, Gainesville

When times are tough, sometimes the best way to brighten children's days is to give them something to love.

The 2012 Bearable Hugs for Georgia's Children Campaign works to provide children stuffed animals during those times of need.

The toys are collected at Department of Child Support Services offices throughout the state and then distributed to law enforcement, emergency service agencies, hospitals, shelters and foster care providers who then give them to children.

"Our fatherhood agent and the local office agents would ... give them to the patrol officers to keep in their cars because if the child is in a situation that the child needs to be comforted, the officer or fireman can provide a bear," said Blue Cole, supervisor of the Georgia Fatherhood Program, a unit within DCSS. "It's something for the child to love on and to hold and to have."

Whether it be a child caught in the midst of a domestic violence situation or one cooped up in a hospital with an illness, the hope is that the child forgets those circumstances, at least briefly.

"They are just ecstatic," Cole said. "They love on the bears, and some of the children who get them are foster children who don't have toys of their own. ... It helps make them comfortable in an otherwise uncomfortable situation," he added.

The program prefers donations of new animals of all varieties, but accepts "gently loved" animals as well, Cole said.

"It needs to be a bear that you would not mind giving your own child," he said.

This will be the fourth year for the campaign. Last year, more than 4,000 stuffed animals were collected, but coordinators have set their sights on a larger goal this time. Statewide, Cole hopes to collect between 7,000 and 10,000 animals.

The campaign began last week and will continue until at least the end of the month. The stuffed animals will be given out during the third week of February.

Because the program has gained more recognition, Cole said more people and organizations have stepped up to the cause.

"We're hoping to solicit more groups to get a larger number of bears," Cole said.

Several local organizations and businesses have pledged to donate to the campaign including the cities of Oakwood and Gainesville, Hall County, the Health Department and the Gainesville Probation Office.

"We know that our local law enforcement is working with the public on a daily basis and they come in contact with children who have been involved in some kind of tragedy, and sometimes something as simple as a stuffed animal can make the difference in the child's day," said Catiel Felts, Gainesville spokeswoman.