Cortland teen collects furry friends for a cause

People have already donated more than 1,000 stuffed animals to
the project.



CORTLAND — She came home from school one day and saw her brother and sister, 4-year-old twins, sitting in a firetruck.

They looked scared.

A garage fire four years ago at their home on Old Oak in Cortland frightened the young children, now 8 years old, and their older sister didn’t want them to worry.

Jenna DePizzo, a 15-year-old Lakeview High School sophomore, said she wished her younger siblings had had something to comfort them.

A little over two months ago, an idea came to her. She thought, “What if they had teddy bears or other stuffed animals they could hug and squeeze when they are afraid?”

“Operation: Patrol Pals” ignited when DePizzo sent a letter to the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Department sharing her idea. The department responded, saying that it would be a great idea to give children stuffed animals.

With help from her mom, Laura, Jenna placed bins in Bazetta elementary and Lakeview middle schools and asked the teachers to send a letter home with the students informing everybody to donate stuffed animals in good condition. They could be new or used.

A good response

She has collected 1,000 stuffed animals so far, and she said she still has to empty more bins.

“It’s really good that the community responded this well,” she said.

Most of the animals are in good condition, she said, but there are some that she has had to throw away.

Laura said some of the bears still have the tags attached, and each bear might have a different story behind it. For example, she said, a bear could have been a gift from an ex-boyfriend and is no longer wanted.

Rocco Vadala, administrative assistant at the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Department, said he has seen children numerous times that either felt threatened or afraid and he thinks giving them a stuffed animal could help quell their fears.

“A child will latch on to one of those stuffed animals, and it gives them a feeling of comfort,” he said. That is the goal.

Vadala said he admires Jenna’s spirit.

“The kid is a go-getter. The girl took the bull by its horns and went forward,” he said.

There’s no stopping her

Jenna attended a chiefs meeting recently and gave the various police departments bags filled with stuffed animals. Altogether, she gave eight bags with anywhere from 50-75 stuffed animals inside each one.

“I think it [the project] is succeeding beyond expectation,” Vadala said.

Laura DePizzo said that when her daughter gets an idea, there is no stopping her. Laura said she will hear an idea before she gets in the shower and by the time she’s out, Jenna is already on the computer sending e-mails or researching.

A living room in her basement is filled with about 600 stuffed animals, and she said she still has more to collect. Laura said that if it’s for a good cause, she can tolerate losing a room in the house.

Jenna is a member of the 4-H Club and is constantly doing community service. She said her school requires a minimum of 10 hours, but she well exceeds it.

“I just do it to do it,” she said. “I really like helping other people, especially kids.”

She said she wants to continue this project until she graduates from high school in three years.

Her mom jokingly said she’d better start building a shed to store all the stuffed animals.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.