Most college students take a local job or relax during the summer. Not Megan O'Grady. The Cape Coral resident will again spend her break traveling for her cause.
The founder and president of Blue Line Bears, which makes and distributes bears to the families of fallen police officers (including from COVID-19), will spend the time between her sophomore and junior years at the University of Central Florida participating in special events honoring local police departments and area families via a partnership with the national nonprofit Beyond the Call of Duty (BCD).
O'Grady plans to be in Miami, Ocoee, Kissimmee, Hollywood and other Florida cities in June and July, plus at the Lee County Sheriff's Office in Fort Myers at 1 p.m. on July 4. She also expects to fly to Houston this month and then Chicago in August.
She spent about two weeks on the road last summer. Her cause has taken her to approximately 15 states so far.
As of early June, 1,100 Blue Line Bears have been distributed to families in 45 states and overseas since 2016. She frequently visits her Cape Coral home during school years to knit and check on organization activities.
Ray Schwabe, who became director of Blue Line Bears in January and is a volunteer with BCD, will be at all of the special events.
“We sometimes are so busy making bears, he’s helped us maintain contact with many families after they’ve received them,” O'Grady said, adding Schwabe has also been instrumental in attaining sponsorships and developing plans for a scholarship fund.
O’Grady, 20, was in Washington, D.C., for part of Police Week in May.
“It was awesome," she said. "After the names of fallen officers were read at a candlelight vigil, we met some families we already knew as well as others, hung out, had some food and bonded.”
The process includes contacting local law enforcement and other agencies to obtain information about fallen officers, their uniform shirts and/or patches. Materials are mailed to the Cape Coral Police Department — of which Megan’s father Patrick is a lieutenant — and provided to Blue Line Bears. Shirts are cut and sewn onto a teddy bear along with a personalized badge with the officer’s last name, badge number, department patch and stripes for rank or service if appropriate. A ribbon with a St. Michael Medal is then placed around the neck of each bear, blessed by a priest and sent to families, all at no expense to them.
The organization - which purchases all materials, covers shipping and other costs - is supported by donations and contributions. O’Grady’s grandmother, Sara Riddle, sews bears in their office on a regular basis.
“She and another volunteer friend sew and have fun,” O’Grady said.
O'Grady looks forward to their next annual fundraising gala in February.
“It’s so great to have a big event each year … be with families from all over and also salute our local supporters.”
Studying for a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she may then pursue a master's in art therapy.
“It’d combine my love of art and helping people,” she said.
What: Blue Line Bears
About: Blue Line Bears makes and distributes bears to the families of fallen police officers. As of early June, more than 1,100 bears had been distributed to families in 45 states and overseas since 2016.
Where: The office is at 3032 Santa Barbara Boulevard, Suite 209.
Online: bluelinebears.org and social media outlets.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Meet the Cape Coral resident and UCF student behind Blue Line Bears