Sophomore biology major Abby Spitler of Mascoutah, Illinois, was the member who initially wanted to get involved in SAFE and is one of the APO members hosting the drive.
An idea stemming from her own desire to donate her stuffed animals, Spitler said the drive is part of a way she can give what she can to kids in need.
“When I was a kid I always had stuffed animals … and now I’m at that age — a little late — but I’m at that age where I want to get rid of them but I want to do it in a meaningful way,” Spitler said.
Looking for a way to donate during the pandemic, Spitler said she searched around until she found the St. Louis chapter of SAFE.
“I figured, ‘Well, I have something I want to donate, I have a service fraternity that I’m in, so I might as well try to combine those so that I can donate my stuffed animals but I can also incorporate my university in trying to get more stuffed animals,’” Spitler said.
Spitler said the stress of the pandemic is one of the factors she considered when thinking about donating her stuffed animals.
“Especially because of COVID-19, there’s a lot of stress and [different] situations — and children, they need stuffed animals,” Spitler said.
The SAFE organization is a national nonprofit organization that helps gives items such as books and stuffed animals to kids in emergency situations that often involve trauma and emotional distress. Robin Scott, the chapter member for Missouri in the St. Louis area, is the one behind the drive being put on by the fraternity.
Scott, a volunteer for ten years, said she has been involved with numerous agencies that have requested help, but in recent years was forced to close when all SAFE chapters were impacted by the pandemic.
Among the various chapters throughout the nation, the Missouri and Florida chapters are the only ones still running at the moment. Scott’s chapter remains open only during the fall to ensure that she can handle the intake of items.
“My chapter was one of the chapters that was first reopened and is still open to receiving donations, so that speaks well of our community and also how the stuffed animals are cleaned and handled and received,” Scott said.
Junior psychology major Zoe Bonds of Johnston City, Illinois, and vice president of service for APO, said the drive has gone well and they’ve already received donations, but initially had trouble with getting permission to place the boxes in the different locations.
With the first week of the drive being primarily about spreading word of the donation locations, Bonds said she hopes to get most of their donations this week, with her personal goal being over 50 if possible.
Bonds said she’s enjoyed being a part of this drive so far and has high hopes for this week based on what was already given.
“I just really like that we’re helping kids. These toys are going to be donated to kids, and a lot of our work in the fraternity focuses on the Edwardsville community and people our age or older adults … But I think it’s really cool to be able to do something for kiddos,” Bonds said.
Junior mechanical engineering major Kimberly Roskamp of Green Valley, Illinois, is the former vice president of service for APO and has gotten involved in different projects throughout her time in the fraternity.
With the SAFE drive, Roskamp said the goal of the drive is personal for her.
“When I was a kid, I was hospitalized a couple times for a couple different things … So I actually received a teddy bear [but] it wasn’t from SAFE, it was from an organization very similar to it,” Roskamp said.
Roskamp said an idea involving a drive like this has been on her mind since she joined APO, and when Spitler brought it up, she immediately was on board.
“I know firsthand that when you’re in the hospital as a child, it’s very scary … Having something to cuddle is super comforting for these kids that are sick,” Roskamp said.
The donation boxes are located at Lovejoy Library, the Student Success Center and every residence hall lobby and in the Cougar Village commons building. All stuffed animals under 18 inches aside from motor-operated ones are accepted.
The SAFE Drive will accept donations until Oct. 30. For more information about how to get involved with SAFE visit their website.