URBANA, Ill. (WCIA — )Most people can say they grew up with a stuffed animal or two to cling onto tight, and one sorority at the University of Illinois is trying to put them in the hands of those who need them most.
Alpha Omicron Pi donated over 300 stuffed, furry friends to the Urbana Police Department.
“Definitely. It wasn’t even a thought. It was a no-brainer. Yeah, we’ll take them in,” says Lieutenant Joel Sanders.
But Sanders is not talking about talking about a suspect. He is talking about pandas.
Pandas for police might sound strange, but there is a good reason behind it.
“In an incident like and emergency [or] a car accident…often the focus is on making sure everybody is safe, and making sure that the scene is taken care of,” says sorority member Maddie Wagner. “That can be really, really traumatic for little kids who have maybe never seen something like this before.”
The idea is for police to bring these stuffed animals with them while on the job. They say they can give it to a child who might need some extra TLC.
“I don’t know what it is about stuffed animals, but we all had them. They all comforted us,” says Sanders.
And comfort is key in times of stress. A lot goes on at the scene of an emergency or crime.
Officers say kids can sometimes feel lost in the commotion, but that is where the pandas can help.
“If that officer can’t focus on that individual right at that moment…if the officer’s got their attention somewhere else, we can give the toy to a child,” says Sanders.
They say it is like an extra tool to go along with all the others in their patrol cars.
Members say the panda is their sorority symbol, and it just so happens to be cute and comforting.
They attached little individual notes to each panda, hoping they make a big difference.
“We just wanted to find a really good way to give back to the Urbana community as a whole because they’ve done so much for our chapter and for our university,” says Wagner.