Fort Myers | Each day, men and women across the United States put on the uniform of a law enforcement officer, most with families waiting behind fearing for their safety but knowing what they do is necessary and heroic.
The symbolism of the uniform helped motivate Bishop Verot Catholic High School sophomore Megan O’Grady, the daughter of Sgt. Patrick O’Grady of the Cape Coral Police Department, to come up with an idea of using a uniform to create a personalized teddy bear for the children of fallen officers.
While Megan prays for the safety of her father each night, it was when on July 7-8, 2016, that five Dallas law enforcement officers were gunned down in the line of duty and nine others were wounded that changed Megan’s perspective on her own personal worries. Then 14, she “realized that law enforcement officers were not really safe anymore.”
While her own father was safe in Cape Coral, she was determined to learn about those who were killed in the line of duty, and in doing so found out the children they left behind were devastated by their loss. Megan felt a strong connection to these children and felt that she had to do something, but didn’t know exactly what.
At about the same time, an assignment for the incoming Bishop Verot School freshman included reading an essay titled “This I Believe,” and a written assignment to explain what she truly believed.
“I’m so proud of him and what he does every day,” Megan said about her father in her essay. “I just needed to figure out something to do to help the children of fallen law enforcement officers cope with the devastating loss of a parent.”
And this is how she came up with the idea of Blue Line Bears, making teddy bears out of the uniforms of officers killed in the line of duty to be delivered to their surviving children. This was a simple, yet powerful, way to honor the lives of those lost and to comfort the families. The name of the bears comes from an expression commonly referred to in law enforcement: “the thin blue line.”
“It is giving the family something very personal, made from the uniform, that comes from the heart,” Megan said.
Blue Line Bears reaches out to law enforcement agencies across the nation to get information about the fallen officer. Once contact is made, a request is made for a uniform shirt to be mailed to Blue Line Bears so it can be transformed into a teddy bear keepsake.
The shirts are then cut, sewn and stuffed into the form of a teddy bear. Additionally, a personalized badge with the officer’s last name and badge number and blue line is sewn on the bear’s stomach. On one foot is the name of the child recipient, while on the other is the E.O.W. (end of watch), or date of death. Each bear is also given a St. Michael the Archangel medal and blessed by a priest before being mailed to the family.
Included in each delivered bear is a personal letter from Megan, which she admitted can be tough to write. “It is emotional because I want to recognize that they were heroes and there is someone out there who knows that and truly cares.” In fact, each step in the process, particularly learning about the fallen officer and their family, is draining. “It can be hard but I am glad I can do it. It is an opportunity to help others is a specific way. It is what we are all meant to do. It is how I was brought up and what I have learned in Church and school.”
In one year, with the help of her grandmother, Sara Riddle, Megan has made 80 bears which have been delivered to 20 states. Sadly, there are new requests for more bears coming in regularly. All of this is done at no expense to the family.
With the help of her mother, Suzie O’Grady, Megan has personally delivered several of the bears, meeting the families and children of fallen officers. The first personal delivery was to the families of Orlando Police Department Lt. Debra Clayton and Orange County Sheriff Deputy Norm Lewis who were killed in related incidents in early January.
These personal meetings can be very emotionally charged, but once past the introductions a personal connection is made and a bond is formed as Megan knows her bears are doing good, particularly when the younger children hug the bears and hold on to them.
The bears not only provide a lasting keepsake to help keep the officer’s memory alive, but will also help their child to see that there are caring individuals who respect and appreciate men and women in uniform.
“We are so proud of her,” Suzie O’Grady said of Megan. “She turned something very negative and instead of leting the worry take over her, she made it into something positive for others.”
For more information about Blue Line Bears, a grass-roots nonprofit organization, visit www.bluelinebears.org.