Toys bring hope to children, troops overseas
A soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division serving in Baghdad, Iraq, distributes donated stuffed animals at a girls' school in the city in the late fall of 2007. Photo courtesy of Dallas Eubanks.
Rotarian Jack Ham has collected close to 75 Beanie Babies over the years, and was ready to part with his furry little friends, including his favorite, Wilbur, a plush, pink pig he was attached to because of Ham’s last name. He wanted to give the stuffed animals to children who had limited or no access to toys.
Ham, a member of the Rotary Club of Houghton, Michigan, USA, shared his desire to donate his collection with fellow club member Lieutenant Colonel Dallas L. Eubanks. Together, they came up with an idea of sending small stuffed toys to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to distribute to local children.
Eubanks says giving gifts to the youth overseas has a positive impact on the children as well as the soldiers, which he experienced during his tour of duty in Iraq in 2003-04. “It helps us bridge the gap with them, and it helps the soldiers feel like there is hope for tomorrow,” says Eubanks. “These gifts show the children that we are not all bad guys with guns and bullets.”
Ham and Eubanks presented the idea to their club and District 6220 (Michigan, USA) in May and within nine months, the club had collected more than 4,200 stuffed animals from around the country.
Eubanks says the gifts bring smiles to the children’s faces and hopes the items will help ease tensions between the troops and local families. The project grew well above what the club anticipated. “We thought we would receive about 500 to 600 stuffed animals,” Eubanks says.
Hundreds of toys too large to ship overseas were sent to orphanages in Mexico, delivered to nursing homes in Michigan, and given to local children.
Ham says helping the kids was very personal to him. “To give the kids toys they have never had before, it just means so much to them.”