MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — A few hundred teddy bears grinned from ear to ear Monday morning at the Crime Prevention Office wing of the Manatee County Sheriff’s campus.

Over 600, in fact.

“We lost count at 600,” said Rod Khleif, founder of the Tiny Hands Foundation. “It was very validating to hear the sheriff talk about the impact of these bears.”

This is the second year the sheriff's office has received a sizeable, cuddly donation from Khleif’s foundation, which was started in 2001 with donated Thanksgiving food. 

In the last few years, the foundation has given bears away to law enforcement agencies in Manatee and Sarasota as a bridge-building tool between law enforcement and traumatized children.

“You never know what you’re going to encounter with the kids, whether it be a vehicle accident or a child protection investigation, something like that,” said MCSO deputy Chris Ralston as he loaded a few bears into the back of his vehicle. “It definitely breaks down the barriers between law enforcement who sometimes can be viewed as intimidating or scary.”

That’s the idea. The presence of something soft and comforting like the bear helps to ease the anxiety in the situation.

“This is going to help us help a child,” said Sheriff Rick Wells. “This is going to assist deputies when maybe a parent’s overdose or maybe someone in their family’s been arrested and they’re upset about it, and they don’t know what to do.”

Teddy bear donation provides deputies with toys for distressed children

That kind of affirmation is what motivates Khleif to give back.

“It was very validating to hear the sheriff talk about the impact of these bears,” he said. “As human beings, we are meant to give back and we’re just blessed to have the opportunity to do it.”

According to the Tiny Hands Foundation website, over the past 17 years with the help of hundreds of community volunteers and supporters, The Tiny Hands Foundation now leads multiple annual charitable initiatives that have benefited more than 55,000 Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto county community children and families in need.

For more information on the TinyHands Foundation, and the Teddy Bear Brigades, click here

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