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Mt. Pleasant Township teen takes on toy drive

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 9:11 p.m.
For The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Olivia Darr, 16, of Mt. Pleasant Township, with some of the 300 stuffed animals she has collected for Stuffed Animals For Emergencies (SAFE). The national non-profit organization provides emergency responders and other service organizations with stuffed animals to give to children for comfort in traumatic situations. Linda Harkcom | For The Mt. Pleasant Journal

A Mt. Pleasant Township teenager has taken it upon herself to help a national nonprofit complete its mission to help children feel safe in times of crises.

Olivia Darr, 16, of Mt. Pleasant Township is collecting gently-used, stuffed animals and other toys for Stuffed Animals For Emergencies (SAFE).

The 15-year-old organization — which is run completely by volunteers — collects various items such as stuffed animals, toys, books and baby blankets.

Those items are then given to children who have directly or indirectly experienced emergency situations such as fires, illness, accidents, neglect, abuse, homelessness and weather emergencies like tornadoes, floods and hurricanes.

Its members also donate items collected to other children's organizations, military organizations, libraries and nursing homes.

“The stuffed animals are basically the vehicle of what we do. We are trying to provide comfort to children in a traumatic situation and to a child in that type of emergency situation it's very much a comfort to them,” said SAFE National Director Jennifer Alloy of Leesburg, Ohio. “We provide stuffed animals to ambulances, police officers, firemen, children's services and homeless shelters. We even send them to soldiers overseas to give them to children as a way to bridge the gap.”

Darr said she got the idea to do a service project after attending the Hugh O'Brian Youth (HOBY) Leadership Program at Washington and Jefferson College this past summer.

“At HOBY they challenged us to do service projects of our own and gain community service hours. I thought collecting toys and stuffed animals for children in need would be a good idea,” Darr said. “I chose SAFE because it seems like a reliable, legitimate organization who truly cares about the people they serve.”

The teen began the collection this summer and, so far, she has collected about 300 stuffed animals for SAFE.

“To get the word out, I announced the collection at my church, and I received a huge response,” Darr said.

SAFE only accepts new or gently used stuffed animals. If the stuffed animals are gently used they need to be in ‘like new' condition and free of any tears, stains or odors, Alloy said.

“It takes a lot of initiative to do what she is doing and I think its really great that she decided to do this for us,” Alloy said.

Darr plans to end the drive around Christmas.

Once the collection is over, all of the donations will be sent to a local SAFE branch in Philadelphia.

Until then, Darr's parents, Mark and Brandi Darr, are letting their daughter use the basement of their home as a stuffed animal storage facility.

“It really amazed her dad and me. She came up with the idea and implemented it entirely on her own,” Brandi Darr said. We're so proud of her for thinking of others.”

For more information or to donate, contact Darr at 724-423-6484.

Linda Harkcom is a freelance writer.

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