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Publix employees rescue 3-year-old girl's stuffed bunny from landfill

Publix employees Mike Gayheart, Alex Chandonnett, Jordan De La Rosa and Bobby Barnhart dug through an Alabama landfill to find a beloved stuffed bunny for a 3-year-old girl. [Photo courtesy of Jenna Rachal]
Published Jul. 18, 2018

Thunder clapped and lightning crashed outside a Daphne, Ala., Publix last Thursday as a mother and her daughter raced through the parking lot to unload groceries for the night's dinner before an impending southern summer thunderstorm.

Jenna Rachal and her 3-year-old daughter, Maddie, were set to have dinner with Rachal's father that night. Maddie took along one of her prized possessions, a stuffed bunny aptly named Bunny, a gift from her grandfather. Amid the fervor and chaos of trying to get a young child and a cart full of groceries safely through a parking lot while staying as dry as possible, there was a casualty. Somehow, Bunny didn't make it back home.

"We unloaded groceries and then went to park the buggy and ran to the car," Rachal said. "That night, when it was time for bed, I realized we had no bunny. I went to Publix the next morning as they were opening to check customer service and see if they had found Bunny or someone had turned him in. No luck. I went back around 12 to check again. No luck."

Rachal posted to the What's Happening in Daphne Facebook page hoping someone had found the bunny. Despite more than 1,000 shares, the outlook seemed bleak. Rachal got a call from Publix the next day saying manager Mike Gayheart saw the post and wanted to check the store's video footage. At best, Rachal said, she hoped for closure, to learn Bunny's fate.

The weekend came and went with no call back.

ALSO READ: A boy's lost stuffed tiger goes on an airport adventure

Jenna Rachal had reached the part where the heartache comes, but the heroes would be near.

Rachal got her call back from Publix on Tuesday. She was told to come in. They had something for Maddie.

Gayheart, it turns out, had watched the footage. He was able to see her through the parking lot. He saw Bunny alone in the shopping cart. He saw someone throw Bunny in the dumpster and he saw the garbage truck haul it away.

He wouldn't stand for it.

So, like a green-clad Indiana Jones jumping into a pit of snakes to save his beloved Marion Ravenwood, Gayheart and three of his employees braved a humid Mobile Bay afternoon with temperatures in the 90s on a last crusade to rescue Bunny.

They did just that.

Employees from an Alabama @Publix spent their weekend digging through a landfill to reunite this 3 y.o. girl and her bunny. #aw pic.twitter.com/omtDOv0gvt

Rachal and Maddie showed up to Publix to find a wrapped gift waiting for Maddie. Gayheart even washed it three times before giving it back.

"She opened the gift and immediately grabbed Bunny and hugged him," Rachal said. "I never imagined they'd actually go out to the landfill to dig through a heap of trash in 90-something degree heat. It's amazing, just so kind of those people. I think it was above and beyond any company's mission statement. That they went out to dig through all that trash and found Bunny is a miracle."

Maddie was a bit shy in the store, Rachal said, but opened up when they got back to their car.

"Oh, I love my Bunny," Maddie said, clutching her beloved toy and friend.

Wednesday morning, despite a no-stuffed-animals policy at her day care, no one could separate Maddie and Bunny.

Daniel Figueroa IV can be reached at dfigueroa@tampabay.com. Follow @danuscripts

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