Staff Photo: John Bohn Jenevieve Joseph, age 11, of Grayson, receives thank you gifts after delivering several hundred stuffed animals to Gwinnett Police officer Eric Rooks, left. Jenevieve collected the stuffed animals as a school project. The animals will be distributed to children in need.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- When young Jenevieve Joseph was in the hospital years ago recovering from surgery, she received a gift that she would never forget -- a teddy bear.
It was a small gesture, but it was a memory that stuck.
Joseph, now 11, found strength from that memory to organize a yearlong effort that would ultimately help other children her age deal with tough situations.
The Couch Middle School student collected more than 540 stuffed animals and donated them Wednesday to the Gwinnett County Police Department.
Gwinnett County Police Officer Eric Rooks said safety and fire officials often carry a stuffed animal in their vehicles for responding to calls where children may be at the scene.
"If we run into any kind of crime where a kid may need something to comfort them, we use the stuffed animals for that," Rooks said. He referred to it as "Operation Teddy Bear Patrol."
When Joseph learned about Operation Teddy Bear Patrol, she asked her peers, teachers and others at Starling Elementary School (where she attended at the time) to donate stuffed animals to the program.
With the help of all who donated, Joseph managed to collect more than 540 stuffed animals from all over the country. Her father said she used social media networks to help spread the word.
"Everything from Beanie Babies to Build-A-Bears started showing up," said Tracy Joseph. "People were paying the postage and sending them from as far as Seattle."
In addition to items mailed to her, she was allowed to set up barrels at her school as stuffed animal collection bins.
"She got tons from that too," her father said.
Jenevieve Joseph said she was hoping to collect at least 300. She was "very happy" to have exceeded the goal.
Rooks is happy about it too.
"This kid is amazing," Rooks said. "She collected a ton of stuffed animals. She is a sweetheart and a half."
Rooks added that because the young girl collected such an abundance of animals, many will go to local charities.
"I think she collected so many animals we may be able to send some out into the community," Rooks said. "It's going to be awesome. We're all proud of this kid."