Giving Comfort When It’s Needed Most

September 1, 2019 | by stephanie hobby

When catastrophe strikes, a little bit of comfort goes a long way. For years, the Billings Fire Department has handed out stuffed animals to children facing a traumatic event. Now their efforts are going a step further, thanks to one local woman and her commitment to children and literacy.

Dr. Laurie Legocki is a team leader at Usborne Books and More. Earlier this year, she teamed up with firefighter Andy Ekblad of the Billings Fire Department to offer bags with books, activities, and cuddly plush toys to help ease children and their families through a crisis. 

“If they can have something to physically give to kids to distract them and keep them safe while they’re trying to do their job, it’s an important and wonderful two-fold thing,” Dr. Legocki said.

"Laurie approached me about these bags, and it seemed like a great way to improve on something we were already doing," said Ekblad, who also oversees the firefighter's Rich DuVal Benevolent Fund. He added that the stuffed animals were a nice idea in theory, but logistically a challenge. Kept in duffle bags in sometimes difficult to reach places on the truck. While a firefighter was on the scene, putting out a fire or attending a medical call, it was an extra step to sort through the bag and find the appropriate animal or doll to distribute. 

Dr. Legocki and Ekblad worked together to develop comfort bags, each stocked with a few carefully selected Usborne books. The bags typically include a nonfiction book about firefighters, crayons, and a stuffed animal or character to cuddle. The books address crises and anxiety, and one, in particular, helps children manage their "what-if" thoughts. The Whatif Monster, by Jonathan James, is one popular option that can be combined with a plush to help children work through their fears. Having stories and activity books readily available can offer a welcome diversion for children facing scary situations, whether it's a house fire, an injured parent, or a car accident. 

Earlier this year, they started a fundraiser to pay for the bags, taking advantage of Usborne Books’ matching program, which contributes an additional 50 percent to every donation. Each $20 donation buys a comfort bag, but with Usborne’s match, every donation actually supplies $30 worth of materials. All funds raised will be used for the comfort bags. Ekblad and Dr. Legocki aim to have at least four bags on every truck serving the Billings community.

The program has taken off quickly. It received unanimous support from the Local 521 Billings Firefighter’s Union and corporate sponsorships from Rimrock Credit Union and 1-800-BOARDUP. Although it has only been a few months since the program's inception, they have more than doubled their fundraising goal, and are looking forward to their next steps. 

“The initial fundraiser was to get enough money for books on the trucks, and we actually surpassed that, which is wonderful,” Dr. Legocki said. “We will continue to ask people for donations over the year or even just as we need them, depending on what the need is.”

Their new goal is to raise enough money to distribute bags on medical calls, which are far more common than fires or car accidents. "The idea that it doesn't have to be a catastrophe for them to get a bag," Ekblad said, pointing out that when you're five, even something as minor as a parent breaking an arm can be terrifying. "We might see it as kind of a minor thing, but to some kids, it might be the scariest thing they've ever been through. And you hand them a teddy bear, and it might make them forget that they're having a bad day. It's just a good thing to do. It's that little extra that you can do to make their incident go a little better."

Dr. Legocki envisions working closely with the Billings Fire Department to encourage more literacy in the community, particularly in places where children might not have as many books at home. "A nice part of this is that all kids love the fire station, firefighters, fire trucks, and all of those things. I feel like the fire department has a unique opportunity to get kids excited about something in a way that you and I can't," she said.

If you would like to give money for a comfort bag, you can donate to the Fire Truck Comfort Bags fund at any Stockman Bank, or visit BillingsFireFighters.org.

Originally printed in the September 2019 issue of Simply Family Magazine

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