A criminal court and state attorney’s office can be a scary place for children who must be there because they are crime victims.
Stuffed animals can help lessen their anxiety, the attorneys of the Special Victims Unit of the state attorney’s office of the Sixth Judicial District discovered.
“We interview all children who are victims of crime, and sometimes they are three, four, five years old,” said special prosecutor Paul Bolan. The staff at the state offices began filling their interview rooms with stuffed animals because they saw it helped the children feel safe and trust law enforcement officials. “It really brightens their day,” he said.
Bolan, who is the father of two preschool-age daughters, said that the special unit began to run out of toys to give to the children. He told his wife, Sandy, who belongs to MOPS at South Shore United Methodist Church in Riverview. MOPS, or Mothers of Preschoolers, is an international organization with chapters in churches all over the world.
According to Amanda Tomlin, the leader of the Riverview MOPS chapter, they gather at the church twice a month in order to “help women and be supportive in a faith environment,” Tomlin said. When MOPS heard about the need for stuffed animals, they sprang into action.
Tomlin said that a few Facebook posts created a buzz within the church and in just a few weeks, hundreds of Beanie Babies and stuffed animals were dropped off in the church office. She has already delivered one batch, but has six large garbage bags full of dozens more in her home, she said.
“We’ve had an overwhelming response,” she said. “We even got a four-foot-long giant dolphin.”
According to Bolan, the need for stuffed animals was great in his office, where every week they interview children of crime, often who are victims of sexual assault. Creating a safe environment for these children is paramount, he said. “These animals will mean a lot to these children.”
The 20 or so members of MOPS at South Shore UMC regularly reach out to their community in lots of ways to help those in need, Tomlin said.
“Our goal is to do a community service project once a month,” she said.
In the past, they have served Family Promise, Mission Smiles, local food pantries and vacation Bible school, to name just some of their missions.
“A lot of people don’t go to church, but they do serve and don’t necessarily realize that there are sharing the love of God,” Tomlin said.
MOPS at South Shore meets at the church at 11525 Big Bend Road, Riverview, on first and third Thursday morning of the month. They meet for a couple of hours and provide childcare for those children not in preschool. Tomlin said that MOPS helped her tremendously as a mother of a young child, and they remain committed to help other mothers in their area. Helping child victims seems like a good fit for mothers and families who want to reach out to the local community.
South Shore partners with the group as an adult ministry and provides space and promotes it on their website. South Shore has an average worship attendance of about 400 at three Sunday services.
Julie Boyd Cole is a freelance writer based in Gainesville.