Annual event collects toys for child abuse survivors
Thousands of child abuse cases are reported in the state every year including Peter Boy Kema's tragedy. The six year old boy disappeared on Hawaii Island back in 1997 and his remains were never found. His story is unfortunately one of the many thousands of abuse cases reported each year in the state. His case raised awareness of child abuse in Hawaii.
"There are more cases of neglect than physical abuse or sexual abuse. There's so many cases in Hawaii," Aileen Deese, Prevent Child Abuse Hawaii retired executive director, said.
Almost 1,300 confirmed cases of abuse were reported in 2017 alone. In 2018, another case was reported on the Big Island of a three year old that died in foster care.
Deese worked for 27 years hoping to lower those numbers. Years ago, she thought stuffed animals could help children heal so she started the Teddy Bear round-up program. She's still volunteering after retirement but passed the baton to Chet Adessa.
"Young children that experience abuse, when they have something that comfort them, even if it's just an inanimate object like a stuffed animal or a teddy bear is so fulfilling for me," Chet Adessa, event chair, Prevent Child Abuse Hawaii, said.
Saturday was the 22nd teddy bear drive and organizers say they collect an average of 5,000 stuffed toys every year. All 4,156 toys collected at the event will eventually find a forever home with toddlers and keiki up to eight years old. They're usually given out during home visits with various agencies including Honolulu Police.
"It's that connection. It's something to hold onto. It's almost like the bear gives the child the nurturing, the love, the attachment. As adults, we forget that," Robert Scratch Ba rajas, Prevent Child Abuse Hawaii executive director, said.
The organization hopes there's one day not a need for another teddy bear drive, because that means there are no more abused children.