By GRACE GADDY
PALESTINE — In the aftermath of violent or stressful domestic situations, a warm, fuzzy blanket or bear could have a prominent positive impact on the child who has suffered abuse.
This was the mission that inspired the Anderson County Blankets and Bears Children's Fund, a non-profit organization that since 2009 has provided new blankets and stuffed animals to children who have been traumatized or abused. The fund relies on donations to distribute the cuddly gifts to local agencies, law enforcement, shelters, hospitals and other organizations that assist children in needful times.
One such distribution took place Thursday, when members of the fund met with Palestine Police Chief Robert Herbert to provide local law enforcement with a routine supply of the fuzzy means to make a difference.
“We normally place them in all our control units, so when patrol officers ride around and come up on a situation where a child needs a bear or a blanket, then we distribute to them at that point,” Herbert said.
Brenda Galindo, community liaison for the Palestine Police Department, said officers hope to calm the distressed child.
“Any scene that we go into where there's a child, we kind of try to comfort them by giving them a small gift,” Galindo said. In abuse situations for instance, officers want the children to understand that they are their friends.
“We give them a small blanket (or stuffed animal) to tote around and hold,” Galindo said.
The organization was started following an email conversation between local attorney Jackson Hanks and Joe Coleman, president of the Anderson County Child Welfare Board.
Hanks said it was born out of “frustration on the needs of children in this community who are abused and traumatized.”
“So the idea that Joe and I came up with was Blankets and Bears,” he said. “We know that those are band aids (but) at least it's a band aid — it's a place to start.”
Hanks said most people don't realize how grave the child abuse situation is, even locally — especially locally.
“If it's out of sight, it's out of mind,” Hanks said. “If it's sexual abuse, nobody thinks that happens in Palestine, Texas. It doesn't happen just in San Antonio or Nashville, Tennessee — it happens right here everyday. Abuse knows no boundaries — economic, social, demographic.”
Since its inception in 2009, the Blankets and Bears Children’s Fund has worked to increase efforts and community engagement to change what Hanks called the “status of the best well-kept secret in town.”
In June of last year, the fund provided Palestine Regional Medical Center’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) with state-of-the-art equipment worth $25,000, which is used to help victims of sexual assault.
“The fund was able to purchase for Jessie Jones, the sexual assault examiner, a forensic examination table that is as good as any in this country — state of the art,” Hanks said, “because the children of this community deserve the best, just as the children in larger cities.”
And of course, the organization has distributed plenty of blankets and bears within the community, including to the following locations: Palestine Regional Medical Center, Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, Palestine Police Department, Palestine EMS, Palestine Fire Department, District Attorney’s Office, Crisis Center of Anderson and Cherokee Counties, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and Northside Primary School.
Another goal of the organization is to implement programs to educate the community before abuse occurs.
In the fall of 2012, the organization distributed copies of “The Swimsuit Lesson” to Northside Primary School classrooms. The book, written by nationally known speaker and author Jon Holsten, helps parents and guardians talk to their young children and grandchildren about privacy, modesty and those who might do them harm.
Hanks said that Blankets and Bears, which is a sub-fund of the Texas Area Fund Foundation, relies heavily on donations from the community to continue its mission. In the past year, the organization was able to raise $56,000 — a number Hanks hopes to see double in time.
“Within two years, my intention is we'll be doing $100,000,” he said.
To help accomplish this, the fund hosts an annual “Spring Bling” Benefit Dinner and Dance. The event features local band, The Electratones. This year, the event will be held March 1 at the Ben E. Keith Community Room at 2019 W. Oak St. in Palestine. Tickets will go on sale Feb. 1 and can be purchased at Texas First Title Company at 601 E Lacy St. in Palestine. For more information or to purchase tickets, call Lisa Frye at 903-723-5393.
Sponsorships are also available at the following levels: Platinum Sponsor, donations of $500 or more; Gold Sponsor, donation of $350 to $499; Silver Sponsor, donation of $200 to $349; Bronze Sponsor, donation of $100 to $199; Friendship Sponsor, donation up to $100. Checks can be made out to Blankets & Bears Children's Fund, P. O. Box 283, Palestine, Texas, 75802.
To make a donation or to find out more about Blankets and Bears, call 903-729-6048 or visit www.blanketsandbears.org.
To report child abuse, please call 911 or the Texas Abuse/Neglect Hotline at 1-800-252-5400.