Area police have new weapons in their mission to protect and serve the residents of the region – cute, fuzzy teddy bears.
Through a new joint program of Cambria County Crime Stoppers and Cuddles for Kids, 500 stuffed bears were delivered Wednesday to the Richland Township Police Department.
Officers and emergency responders from Adams Township, Croyle Township, Portage Borough, Summerhill Township and Richland joined Crime Stoppers President Gary Martin in announcing the venture, which is designed to help police handle calls that involve children.
"This just goes hand in hand with police, EMS and fire responsibilities," Martin said. "These folks come in contact with children in very stressful situations. It's comforting for the children to know that there's a bear and they can relate to that. It's nice, especially at Christmas time, but really throughout the year."
Cuddles for Kids founder Conner Hagins visited Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center on Tuesday to deliver toys to children there. He said working with local police is a natural extension of the program he launched a decade ago.
"I never wanted to give it up," said Hagins, a Bishop McCort Catholic High School graduate now attending La Roche College. "I always wanted to keep it going and each year get bigger and better."
Over 10 years, Cuddles for Kids has provided more than 100,000 toys, books and other items to children across the region during the holiday season.
Now the program is supplying teddy bears to help area emergency responders work with children in traumatic circumstances.
"It's something special," Hagins said. "It's a little different from what we normally do with Cuddles for Kids, but we're always looking for ways to branch out and reach more kids."
Richland police Chief Mike Burgan said his officers will make very good use of those fuzzy bears.
"Something like this can help calm a child down. It's something they can hold," Burgan said. "When you give a child a doll or stuff animal, their face just lights up. It stops the crying, the emotion. Then you can do your job."
Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat and TribDem.com. He can be reached at 814-532-5091. Follow him onTwitter @MinemyerChip.