Hugs of hope

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Children and stuffed animals speak the same language — at least that’s what Hank Williams and some of his friends think.

“There is a special connection that kids have with cute, furry stuffed animals,” said Williams, a member of the Branson Bootkickers.

For more than 25 years, the Branson Bootkickers, a local country western dance group, has donated stuffed animals to local emergency and law enforcement agencies in what it calls the Teddy Bear Brigade.

The stuffed animals are used to comfort children during tough times when they come into contact with these agencies.

“The police, fire, ambulance and hospital personnel give the animals to children in hopes that it will comfort them,” Williams said. “It’s a gesture that lets the kids know they are there to help.”

On Wednesday, Williams and fellow Bootkicker Herb Rogers, delivered nearly 100 stuffed animals to Skaggs Community Health Center and the Taney County Ambulance District.

He said the group began collecting the animals in September.

“We just keep bringing them in and it turns into a pretty big pile of animals,” Williams said. “We took the bigger ones to Skaggs and the smaller ones went to the ambulance district.”

The Skaggs donation will be used in the pediatrics unit.

“This is a generous donation,” said Skaggs LPN Heather Brown. “It is greatly appreciated by both the staff and the children who need additional comforting during their stay (at Skaggs).”

Jeff Hawkins, TCAD Operations Manager, said its great to have the stuffed animals in their ambulances.

“This can give the kids something to hang onto,” Hawkins said. “It also gives them a reason to trust us. It almost always makes them smile.”

Officials from Skaggs and TCAD said they appreciate the efforts of the Bootkickers.

“If they didn’t do this for us, we would probably have to pay for the animals,” Hawkins said. “The people who donate these items will never really know how much this helps us do our jobs.”

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