Local group donates teddy bears to police department

Police officers often see people, including children, on what’s probably one of their worst days.

Officer Jeremy Helmsing of the Seymour Police Department said it might be due to a house fire, a mom, dad or family member getting hurt, a car accident or maybe even a Department of Child Services placement.

“So that’s always something we have to try to balance is portraying ourselves as not the bearers of bad news to kids,” Helmsing said. “We usually put stuffed animals in our vehicle when we’re mobile so when we’re on the scene, we can give the child something that comforts them.”

To help meet that need, Adrianne Hernandez, president of the Seymour Kiwanis Club, and Sadie Gonzales, lieutenant governor of the local Kiwanis division, recently presented the Seymour Police Department with 10 trauma bears.

Those are teddy bears kept in police cars or rescue vehicles and typically are given to provide a little comfort, security and hope to children who find themselves in traumatic situations.

“One example would be just a month or two ago, there was a 4-year-old girl that was involved with DCS,” Helmsing said. “I happened to have a little fairy in my car packaged up and had been in there for quite awhile.”

The mother was distraught, and the little girl didn’t know what was going on, so Helmsing took the girl to see the lights on his cruiser.

“I was able to give her that little toy I had in my car, so it’s cool to be able to have our street units equipped with a few little toys or stuffed animals,” he said. “We haven’t participated in a formal program before with toy donations, but we do have some people who donate and bring in some toys.”

Gonzales said the Seymour club was inspired by the Shelbyville Kiwanis Club, which also participates in the trauma bear project, only they buy stuffed animals and distribute them at hospitals.

“I thought it would be a really cool opportunity to have a division project where the Seymour and Shelbyville clubs both participate,” Gonzales said. “My thought process was if a couple of the clubs in the division were doing this project, then maybe it would catch on.”

She said there are several different Kiwanis divisions within Indiana, and the local one includes Seymour, Shelbyville, Franklin, Columbus and North Vernon.

Hernandez said Seymour Kiwanis lost a couple of its big fundraisers — selling roses for Mother’s Day and the fish sandwich stand at Oktoberfest — last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so they didn’t have as much money to provide to the community as they normally do.

“The Kiwanis Indiana Foundation had a lot of money they were wanting to give out, and if you don’t ask for it, it just sits there,” she said. “So we applied and received $396.50 for the trauma bear program, and with that money, we were able to purchase 128 bears.”

Hernandez said they spoke to Seymour Police Chief Bryant Lucas last year about the possibility of getting the bears, but then the world shut down due to COVID.

Gonzales said Lucas thought it was a good idea, so the club will take 10 bears a month to the police station for the yearlong project.

Helmsing said the stuffed animals are much appreciated and won’t only be used for traumatic events.

“Sometimes, we’ll keep toys in interview rooms for when kids come here with their parents,” he said. “We also have some kids that come here to the station to wait for DCS to pick them up, so we like to have fun things to keep them occupied.”

He said if the police department has stuffed animals to give out, they will find children to give them to.

“We work with a lot of families, whether it’s disorderly calls or other issues, and we don’t always have things to give to the kids.” Helmsing said. “Lately, we’ve been doing birthday drive-bys, which has been popular because of COVID.”

He said people in various local organizations live and work here and the police department serves them, and now, they’re also helping the department help other people.

“I think it’s cool to have this bear drop by the Kiwanis, and lately, we’ve been working toward a more community policing concept,” he said. “This involves several partners in the community, and it’s great to have support like this.”

Helmsing said they deal with some kids who just don’t like police in general, but these bears can bridge that gap, and it’s a universal language.

“Even if there is a language barrier with some of our residents, everybody knows what a teddy bear is, and all kids love teddy bears,” he said.

Gonzales said Seymour Kiwanis serves about 15 local organizations, and the club currently has about 20 members, both men and women.

“We are an international service organization, and our primary mission is to serve the children of the world,” Hernandez said. “This year, the club started a new fundraising adventure. It was egg your yard over Easter weekend.”

She said it was a great success, and they hope to double the families reached next year if they have enough volunteers participate.

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What: Seymour Kiwanis Club meetings

When: 6:10 p.m. on the first and third Thursday of each month

Where: Seymour Community School Corp. administration building, 1638 S. Walnut St., Seymour

Information: Email [email protected]

Kiwanis is an international service organization whose mission is to serve the children of the world.

Through the years, Seymour Kiwanis has been involved in community projects, including but not limited to Oktoberfest fish stand, Day of Caring, Salvation Army bell ringing, Bowl for Kids’ Sake, Mental Health America of Jackson County Christmas party, Mother’s Day rose sale, Stuff the Bus, Rock’n Ready, sponsoring the Seymour High School Key Club, monthly bingo at Seymour Crossing and egg your yard over Easter weekend. Plus, the club has a partnership with Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.