Way to go: Zachary Iannotta, Middle Island

Zachary Iannotta, a sixth-grader at Longwood Middle School,

Zachary Iannotta, a sixth-grader at Longwood Middle School, helped collect more than 500 teddy bears for patients at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson. (Credit: handout)

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Zachary Iannotta has made it his mission to make sure there isn't a shortage of teddy bears for patients at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson.

The sixth-grader at Longwood Middle School in Middle Island has spearheaded the collection of more than 500 teddy bears in recent years through word-of-mouth and by placing posters around his school. He got the idea as a second-grader when he noticed a shortage of stuffed animals in a donation box at Charles E. Walters Elementary School in Yaphank.

His reaction was to ask his mom if he could take $100 from his college fund to buy bears.

"She said I'm not allowed to touch my college fund," said Zach, 12, who then began asking people to donate bears. "The hospital gives them to pediatric and elderly patients that just had open-heart surgery."

The donation program, titled "Hugs," was created by Walters second-grade teacher Lenore Bence, who welcomed help from Zach. In total, Bence has collected 1,200 stuffed animals over the past five years.

"Zach has been a big help in reaching the number," she said.

Zach also volunteers his time making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a food pantry at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Babylon and is a peer mediator at his school.

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