Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Hug is Worth a Thousand Words… Project Smile

by Donna R. Gore, M.A.

Do you recall your favorite toy growing up? What was that special source of comfort for you when life was so unfair and Mom wasn’t available? For “Little Girljustice” – in and out of the hospital so many times she couldn’t count, it was the classic “Raggedy Ann” doll. For LJ’s sister, Holly, it was a blanket … just like Linus! We remember the ritual of the tattered remains being brought out to the garbage barrels and then gone forever… ‘Quite traumatic!

A “normal childhood” can be traumatic in itself. However, just imagine if you are a vulnerable child witnessing for the first time… or innumerable times… the horror of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, chronic illness or the ravages of a house fire. What is a child to do? Run or curl up in a ball…into the fetal position? Who can a child turn to in such situations?

Enter Catherine Pisacane from Hopedale, Massachusetts. (Hopedale is a quaint looking small town of 5.3 square miles with approximately 6,000 residents in Central Massachusetts – Worchester County). Ms. Pisacane was a Hunter College graduate, majoring in English… who just happened to acquire a degree in criminal justice as well.

It was against this backdrop that Catherine’s heartstrings were pulled in the worst (or best) of ways… A newspaper account told of three young brothers from New Jersey who were starved by their adaptive parents. What?? Yes… sadly this does happen more often than you would think. Adoption is not always motivated by love… but another way to “abuse the system and rake in the money.” As the story goes, the three little boys were taken into protective custody, and brought to the police station. One of the boys was given a small stuffed animal (a tiger) during interviewing and clung to it for dear life, as it obviously provided the comfort he so badly needed!

This tragedy was the impetus for the initiation of “Project Smile,” a tax exempt non-profit, donating small stuffed animals, toys, coloring books/crayons and storybooks to first responders such as police, fire fighters and ambulance crews who in turn, distribute them to needy children in the course of their jobs. Currently all New England States and Arizona participate, according to their website information. Statistics to date: Participation:

Massachusetts – State & Local Police Total – 87 Departments; Massachusetts Fire Fighters & Ambulance Total – 37 Departments; New Hampshire Total 2 Departments; Maine Total 1 Department; Connecticut Total 7 Departments; Rhode Island Total 5 Departments; New Jersey Total 1 Department; Arizona Total 1 Department

In addition, Project Smile has developed a partnership with the Department of Children and Families by assisting approximately 7,000 children in foster care and children living in shelters.

[LJ- May is National Foster Care Month: In Connecticut, 4,441 children were in state care as of April 2012; 71% lived in a family setting – traditional foster care or a relative’s home; 3,298 homes were licensed to provide care as of April 2012; For more information on becoming a foster or adoptive parent in Connecticut, call 888-KID-HERO or go to]

Who Benefits?

As stated earlier, those children who are vulnerable to situations of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, chronic illness, grief over the loss of family members and house fires are typical scenarios. [Ladyjustice can envision other scenarios such as child neglect from parental drug addiction or alcoholism, children in frequent transition from shelters, foster care situations, or extended hospitalizations,]

Expansion of Services

As of January 2008, Catherine expanded her services to include seniors who have been diagnosed with various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. When these patients make the transition from their home residence to a nursing home, it can be very frightening and traumatic. Furthermore, these patients can feel a sense of comfort and the introduction of a stuffed animal by a police officer or EMT can produce a calming effect, similar to that of a child. And so… we have long lasting benefit at both ends of the spectrum.

How Does It Work?

New or gently used items in excellent condition can be purchased or dropped off at a location close to you …or mailed to Project Smile. (***See guidelines/restrictions at this link: There are size, condition and “noise” restrictions on donated stuffed animals and small toys.

How You Can Help – Options:

Ø Volunteer to start a local chapter anywhere in the U.S. with their guidance;

Ø Make a financial (tax deductible) contribution via their headquarters…or through Virtual Aid Drive. This option enables you to see/shop for items that are truly needed, as well as offering a time efficient and cost efficient manner. (The majority of items range from $2.99 to $4.99 using this method.;

Ø Using Project Smile’s Guidelines, sort out your own items, drop off locally or mail. For larger bulk donations, please call first for arrangements.

Fundraising events and application for grants appear to be on-going as well!

Stay tuned… Christine Pisacane and one of her first responders may be a “Shattered Lives” radio guest in the future (if we’re lucky!)

Contact Info:

Ms. Christine Pisacane, Executive Director

Project Smile

P.O. Box 336

Hopedale, MA 01747;

Tel: (508) 634-0203

“Hugs” Ladyjustice!

To read more of Donna Gore's posts, and learn more about "LadyJustice," refer to her website: Donna is also a Featured Columnist for Here Women Talk and the host of SHATTERED LIVES each Saturday at 5ET.


  1. Donna-- Thanks for this great post! I applaud your compassion.

    I'm glad you're directing people to a website to see who needs the stuffed animals. When I worked in law enforcement, we had bags upon bags upon bags of bears, etc. that we would drop off at the local food bank for distribution. There were just too many at the police department to give out. So it pays to see which agencies are in need of them. There's always somewhere that needs bears, just not necessarily the obvious places.

    Thanks for this info.! Hopefully your post just started the ripple in the pond.

  2. Good Morning Heidi! Thanks so much for your comment... So few people comment. I really appreciate the feedback! Yes, I think this is a really worthwhile venture! In fact... You're the first to know - Catherine is scheduled to be on my radio show, "Shattered Lives" on Saturday, September 8th and on the archives! 'Really hope you'll listen ...and pass the word!

    Have a good holiday!

    Donna "Ladyjustice"


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