SCHERERVILLE | Children throughout the region facing frightening events will be comforted by stuffed animals originally collected for Sandy Hook Elementary School students in Newtown, Conn.
The overwhelming community response to Watson Elementary School’s teddy bear collection drive for Sandy Hook students in December filled one classroom with more than 1,000 stuffed animals. However, just as the toys were ready to box up for shipping, word came from Newtown officials to stop sending donations.
“At first we were really disappointed,” said Gretchen Pishkur, a fourth-grade teacher at Watson who came up with the idea to collect teddy bears after 20 children and six adults died at Sandy Hook.
“Then we decided to see if local police and fire departments would be able to take the teddy bears,” Pishkur said.
That response has been just as overwhelming and heartfelt, she said.
Boxes of the stuffed animals already have been taken or are waiting to be placed with the Indiana State Police post in Lowell, the Crown Point Police and Fire dispatch center, the Crown Point Police Department, Schererville Police Department and Fire Department, the Gary Fire Department and Southlake Prompt Ambulance.
Stuffed animals also were donated to St. Jude House in Crown Point for children there and to the Northwest Indiana Kids Cancer Foundation for a family benefit slated in March.
“The bears can’t be given to the children being treated for cancer because of immune issues,” Pishkur said.
A box of Beanie Babies sent by Viki Williams, a teacher from Portage, will be sent to Newtown along with photos of all the activities surrounding the teddy bear drive.
The $500 that was donated to pay for shipping will be sent to Newtown, Conn., to add to a fund set up there.
The entire Watson family of students, parents, staff and teachers helped organize the stuffed animal drive, Pishkur said.
Kim Yelich, a veteran kindergarten teacher, also pitched in to divide and box up the hundreds of stuffed animals.
“We were devastated by what happened at Sandy Hook and didn’t know how to explain it to our children,” Yelich said. “Then Gretchen came up with this idea. It gave everyone an opportunity to do something positive.”
That positive feeling continues, Pishkur said, because of all the local children who will be comforted and the connections that have been made because of the teddy bear drive.
“It’s been wonderful. I’ve made connections with people I haven't talked with in 25 years,” she said. “So much good is coming from something so horrible.”