Sparkt Bridges

Girl Comforts Other Children She'll Never Meet

JoJo's Hug Project provides first responders with stuffed animals for children in crisis.


This story is part of a bi-weekly series that celebrates people who are reaching across a divide to "build bridges" with those different from themselves. The Sparkt Bridges series is made possible with the support of UPMC.

9-year old JoJo Jaskulski can't tell you exactly why she cares about other people so much. It simply makes her happy to see other people happy.

When she was just 8, JoJo started a food drive in her community of North Strabane, in Washington County, about 40 minutes south of Pittsburgh. Then last summer, she saw an idea on-line that she liked even better: collecting new stuffed animals for first responders to give to frightened children in emergency situations.

That's how JoJo's Hug Project was born. It gives children at car crashes, fires, even domestic situations a cuddly animal to hold on to -- a hug from JoJo if you will -- during what may be the scariest moments of their young lives.

JoJo raises the money to buy her stuffed animals by selling handmade crafts, and holding lemonade stand events ( check out her Facebook page for dates and locations ).

Jo Jo is "part of the family" at the North Strabane Fire Department.

She also takes donations of money to buy stuffed animals, and she has a box at the North Strabane Fire Department where people can drop off donations of animals (FYI: she especially loves Squishmallows and Disney Cuddleez). So far she's distributed more than 300 plush animals to the North Strabane Police and Fire Departments, Chartiers Township PD, Washington ER, Washington City Mission, Canonsburg Food Pantry, and even her great-grandmother's nursing home.

JoJo doesn't think it's a big deal that someone so young is doing something that's having such an impact. "I don't think you're ever too young," she said matter-of-factly.

North Strabane Police Chief Brian Hughes is one of Jo Jo's biggest fans.

But her fans think differently. "It's nice to see someone that young truly caring for others," said North Strabane Fire Chief Mark Grimm." Police Chief Brian Hughes agrees. "It gives all of us something to think about what we can do for other people."

"All kids in emergency situations need a warm hug, too!"

Fine out more about how to donate to JoJo's Hugs Project, e-mail them at jojohugproject@gmail.com to find out where to mail monetary donations, or donations of stuffed animals.

The Sparkt Bridges Project is produced with the generous support of UPMC. Life Changing Medicine.

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