Neenah Police launch “Stuffed Hugs” program

Just some of the stuffed animals the Neenah Police Department is offering as part of its "Stuffed Hugs" program.
Just some of the stuffed animals the Neenah Police Department is offering as part of its "Stuffed Hugs" program.

NEENAH, Wis. (WBAY) – Carrying stuffed animals in squad cars is a common practice among local police agencies. The toys are given to children in times of need. But the Neenah Police Department is launching a program that will no longer only associate that act of kindness with tragedy.

Whether it’s a car crash, a fire, or some other reason local police respond to an incident, in most cases, if children are involved, a stuffed animal, carried in an officer’s squad car is given to the child for comfort. But after being inundated with stuffed animal donations from the public, the Neenah Police Department is adopting what it’s calling “stuffed hugs”.

The idea is for any child who comes into the police department, for whatever reason, can leave with a stuffed animal they can enjoy.

According to Office Stu Zuehls with the Neenah Police Department, “It’s a great experience if we can turn around something potentially could have that negative, long-lasting effect on the children, and they can turn around and think of us in more of a positive way.”

Much like the generosity of the community that has donated all of the stuffed animals to the police department, Express Laundry Center in Oshkosh donated its services, running nine machines at one time to make sure the animals are clean and ready to hand out.

Karen Cooley is the manager at Express Laundry Center. She says, “They did have bags, but we used quite a few of our washing machines and they were able to use the ozone which helps sanitize them and it went pretty quick.”

With bags and bags of sanitized animals now on hand, the police department doesn’t expect their distribution to go as quickly as their washing, but they’re anxious to have an impact on the kids who come in and help themselves to a stuffed hug.

Office Zuehls adds, “It’s just one more program, one more thing, that we can offer the public to try and comfort them.”