They bagged hundreds of toy teddy bears Wednesday night and on Thursday, a group of Nassau County court officers will load them onto a bus used to transport jurors and make the rounds of local hospitals, handing out bears to sick and needy kids in the name of some holiday cheer.
"It gives you a reality check," Fraternal Order of Court Officers president Joe Cannella, a retired sergeant, said of the annual teddy bear drive, now in its 15th season. "A lot of our people who go for the first time end up crying, seeing the kids, but it's a happy crying."
Cannella said he got the idea for the annual drive when he escorted the families of three court officers lost during the Sept. 11 terror attacks — Sgt. Thomas Jurgens, Sgt. Mitchel Wallace, and Capt. William (Harry) Thompson — into the Centre Street courthouse in Manhattan and saw that they had a teddy bear drive going there, organized by senior court officer Nancy Puglise. When she later transferred to Nassau courts, Cannella persuaded her to organize a drive in Nassau.
During the holiday season, Cannella said, collection tables are placed in Supreme Court and County Court, as well as in District Court and Family Court, and court employees and sometimes even members of the public stop by and drop off bears.
This year, he said, they have collected close to 1,000 teddy bears, though the final count is still to be determined.
On Wednesday night, officers bagged the bears. Thursday morning, a dozen or so officers plan to make the rounds, going to the oncology ward at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, then to Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, Long Island Jewish Valley Stream in Valley Stream and Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, handing out bears — sometimes, like at Winthrop, even going bed-to-bed, letting sick kids pick their own bears.
On Friday, the court officers will take the remaining bears and donate them to needy kids at the Our Lady of Loretto Church outreach program, as well as to the soup kitchen at the Interfaith Nutrition Network. Both of those organizations are in Hempstead.
Earlier this week, the officers made donations of bears to the Ronald McDonald House and to Cohen's Children's Hospital, both in Glen Oaks in Queens, Cannella said.
The officers also make monetary donations, taking cash raised from courthouse candy desk sales. This year they raised about $1,000, he said.
"Teddy bears are pretty universal. They're good for boys and girls and kids of all ages like them," Cannella said, adding: "I still wish I had my old teddy bear from when I was a kid."