MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

December 21, 2013

Cuddle corps starts recruiting

Stuffed toys sought for law enforcers to give to children

By E.I. Hillin
Phoenix Staff Writer

— A local fundraiser hopes to provide enough stuffed animals for the Muskogee police and Muskogee County Sheriff’s Department to give children throughout 2014.

“This is one of those things that is personal,” said Police Chief Rex Eskridge. “It’s more visceral, it’s more on the emotional side. We connect with kids, and this is really just a beautiful way to do it.”

Casey Langston, a Muskogee native, felt the need to reach out to children who are found in police care.

“Helping people has been on my heart for a very long time,” Langston said.

“When children have to be removed, it’s obviously not a planned thing, it’s a traumatic experience,” she said. “Some of these children may be going into foster homes.”

The departments are in need of stuffed animals to replace what they once had on hand.

“We don’t have anything to give them to show them we aren’t the bad guys,” said Sheriff Charles Pearson. “It’s something that all of us have done in the past; we used to have so many.”

That is why Langston decided to give the children something to hold on to and take with them.

“It really serves a really valuable purpose in the way we sometimes have to deal with small children,” Eskridge said.

Langston worked with youth in foster homes before moving back to Muskogee in late 2010. She previously worked in the Norman area out of the Workforce Oklahoma offices.

She knew that she wanted to do some type of fundraising but wasn’t sure exactly what.

Langston spoke with Eskridge and Pearson.

Both departments keep stuffed animals in their patrol cars for children but don’t have enough for all the children to keep.

“What if, since they carried stuffed animals in their cars, what if the kids could have stuffed animals for them to hold on to?” Langston said.

That is when the idea of “Stuffed Full of Love” was born.

The idea that the stuffed animals would be given to children in Muskogee and Muskogee County gives comfort to Langston.

Any new or gently used stuffed animals or baby blankets can be dropped off at the Fort Gibson Church of Christ or First United Methodist Church in Muskogee. Arrangements can also be made for pickup by reaching Langston by e-mail.

Making the children feel better is the main point of the stuffed animals, but the animals also provide some comfort for the officers.

“No matter what, they smile at you, that means something,” Pearson said.

Langston reached out for donations “through word of mouth and a little social media, and church,” she said.

“The response has been wonderful and it’s growing,” she said.

“My hope is that it grows and becomes an annual fundraiser.”

Reach E.I. Hillin at (918) 684-2926 or ehillin@muskogeephoenix.com.