With lights flashing, law enforcement officers set out to prove they're all really teddy bears at heart. Patrol car after patrol car rolled up to Rady Children's Hospital Tuesday to deliver stuffed animals as part of the annual Teddy Bear Toy Caravan.
The tradition started about 19 years ago with the delivery of just a few bears by one officer. Every year, the program has grown. Now 25 agencies collect the bears and deliver it to the patients at Rady Children’s Hospital.
Officers from all over the county – from Chula Vista to Carlsbad to Escondido – took part in the toy drive as well as members of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the California Highway Patrol and San Diego State University police.
“To see the kids smile, to give them some relief, especially during the holiday season, that’s sort of what our jobs are all about,” said Christine Sperry with San Diego Harbor Police, the organizing agency of this year's drive.
Somewhere between 50-60,000 stuffed animals were donated this year along with approximately $10,000. The goal is to make sure the hospital is stocked all year long so no kid goes without comfort, according to Sperry.
Coronado police officer Brian Hardy was on hand to see the event he inadvertently started 19 years ago.
It all began when Hardy got lost inside the hospital on an unrelated call. He went out a side door and noticed a toy collection bin that looked a little empty. He asked permission to use his patrol car to deliver a small bunch of bears to the hospital and got his supervisor’s okay. The next year, a couple of colleagues wanted to get involved.
Now, almost two decades later, Hardy said he has seen firsthand how the bears can comfort children.
“They come up to me and tell me ‘You know, I still have that bear. I’ve gotten rid of all my other toys but I’ve still got that bear because it saw me through that time in the hospital,’” said Hardy. “It’s just an amazing experience.”
The children could not take part in the event outside the hospital because of the new H1N1 patient precautions.
The Chargers, Kohl’s and Bank of the West were major sponsors for the drive.
Next year, for the 20th anniversary, Hardy would like to see the drive get even bigger.
“This still isn’t enough. I won’t rest until all children’s hospitals all across the nation... I’m talking about police departments and children’s hospitals from here to the East Coast on a single day at the same time coordinated teddy bear deliveries,” said Hardy. “We've got to do this everywhere. This is Christmas.”