It all began with a short story about a Gilbert couple’s request for donations to the Arizona Highway Patrol Association’s “Comfort Bear” program that appeared on page 2A of the Aug. 14 edition of the Payson Roundup.
What resulted was an overwhelming outpouring of support that surprised Roundup employees, Department of Public Safety officers, and the couple who made the request.
In just over two weeks, almost 100 stuffed toy bears of all sizes, shapes and themes were dropped off at Roundup offices, the designated collection point for the toys.
Yesterday, Aug. 31, DPS Sgt. Terry Lincoln, officer Seth Meeske and the requesting couple — Charlie and Rhonda Walters — met for the first time at the Roundup’s office to pick up the toy bears and distribute them to officers around the state.
Eventually, officers will give them to children impacted by tragedy and trauma to help soothe and calm them.
Both Charlie and Rhonda were overwhelmed when they first saw the number of bears collected, saying it was an amazing gesture by Rim Country residents to contribute to the program.
Lincoln and Meeske were also taken back by the volume collected, but said the toys will eventually be used for a very worthwhile cause.
The Walters jumped on the idea to help collect bears after they learned from Sgt. Jimmy Chavez, the president of the Arizona Highway Patrol Association, that the supply of “Comfort Bears” had dwindled to the lowest level ever.
The Walters thought getting involved in the program would be a great way to honor their son, Andy, who was killed in a car accident on Nov. 11, 2007 in Star Valley.
He was 18 years old at the time of his death and on his way to the Walters’ family cabin in Forest Lakes.
“We always called Andy, ‘Bear,’ a name originally derived from ‘Andy the Pandy Bear’ much to his chagrin,” Charlie Walters said. “We are grateful for the time God gave us with Andy, but miss him terribly — if only we could get one more ‘Bear Hug.’”
For every bear donated in Payson and in Tempe, where Andy attended high school, the Walters will make a donation to the Andy Walters Visual Arts Scholarship fund at Marcos de Niza High School.
Charlie Walters said the overwhelming success of the program has he and his wife mulling over making it a yearly project.
“We are so thankful the people of Payson got involved,” he said. “That makes the whole thing even better.”