CAPE CORAL, Fla. - It all started with a high school assignment.
Megan O’Grady says she had to write about a topic that she felt passionate about in her life.
As the daughter of a law enforcement officer who had recently learned of the deaths of five officers during a 2016 protest in Dallas, it wasn’t hard for her to share what she was feeling at the time.
That paper would soon turn into a passion project and the nonprofit, Blue Line Bears.
Four years later, the group has dispersed more than 700 teddy bears - sewn with the uniforms of fallen law enforcement officers and given to loved ones that have been left behind.
“Taking that uniform shirt and making it into something that can be held and cuddled...it gives them comfort and a little bit of their loved one back,” the 18-year-old tells FOX 4.
She says prior to this year, Blue Line Bears filled five to ten requests per week from agencies across the country.
“Now, it can be up to like 20 or 30”.
Megan’s father is Master Sergeant Patrick O’Grady with the Cape Coral Police Department.
He says agencies from all over reach out to the group for bears.
O’Grady says they also use the website Officer Down Memorial Pageto keep track of impacted families.
According to the site, there was 148 line of duty deaths in 2019.
This year and at the time of this story, the website reports that the number is already 247.
The site says most of those deaths are related to COVID-19 and gunfire.
“At any time, we can have over 100 shirts waiting to be turned into bears,” O’Grady says.
With an increase in demand comes the need for an increase in space.
That’s why the nonprofit is now expanding to an official location in Cape Coral.
Megan says the new space will serve as a place to hold meetings and a go-to location for the community to purchases merchandise.
She says she's most excited that it will also provide a bigger workspace to prepare the keepsakes that bring support to many families.
Because as Megan, now in her first year of college, says, “There’s always a lot of bears to be made.”
The O'Gradys say the new location will be complete by the end of the year.
The address for the new storefront is 3032 Santa Barbara Boulevard.
Click here for more information about Blue Line Bears.
This story was first reported by Shari Armstrong at WFTX in Fort Myers, Florida.