May 9, 2007 | By: Laura Skillman

At their recent annual meeting, the Kentucky Extension Homemakers Association began a yearlong celebration of their 75th anniversary. To kick off the celebration, they presented a record amount of money to the University of Kentucky Ovarian Cancer Screening Program and collected a literal mountain of beanie babies for distribution to Iraqi children.

The annual meeting concludes the homemakers’ yearly fundraising efforts for the cancer program. The following day they begin again. This year the organization donated more than $57,000, the largest donation to date, making more than $943,000 raised since they began their effort some 30 years ago. They hope to hit $1 million at their 2008 meeting to mark the conclusion of their 75th year, said René Siria, state president.

“I’m a cancer survivor so I’m a little bit obsessive about this,” she said. “I’d like to think that years ago somebody was doing research, somebody was raising money, and somebody was doing things that saved my life. So, I see this as a way of helping people down the road that I’ll never even know. So this is really important to me.”

Siria said she noticed a few years ago that they were edging toward the $1 million mark and issued a challenge that the organization hit $1 million by the 75th convention in 2008.

“We’re within $57,000, so if they do just as well as they did this year we’ll make it, but based on what I’ve heard we’ll do even better,” she said. “It will be pretty exciting.”

Siria said they also continue to work to get women to be screened for ovarian cancer. “That’s the other part of it,” she said.

In addition to their annual efforts for the cancer program, the homemakers annually collect donations for an international effort. This year’s effort resulted in beanie babies literally peeking out of boxes and bags in a closet stuffed to the limits. And this was the third, and final, collection. The tiny stuffed toys are being shipped to Iraq for soldiers to hand out to children, said Marlene McComas, international committee chairman.

“Every year, Kentucky Extension Homemakers work on an international project somewhere in the world where they can network through the Associated Country Women of the World to help provide needs for cares and concerns of the woman child,” she said. “This year 
we took it a little differently. Because of our involvement in the war in Iraq, we wanted to help the children there and we felt like the best way to do that was with a soft cuddly toy.

“Regardless about how you feel about the war, children are children all over the world and they need the basics of food, water, love, and to feel wanted and needed,” McComas said. “Giving them a soft toy makes them feel important, wanted and loved. Our soldiers give out candy – we see that on television all the time. But we thought if we could give them a little toy to hold on to and feel like it was theirs…”

The call for beanie babies went out this past year and an avalanche of the little critters has been pouring in ever since. Two earlier collections yielded nearly 15,000 pounds of toys that have already been shipped or been boxed to be shipped. That’s about six toys per pound. The final collection at the convention yielded at least that many. Luckily, McComas’ son is operations manager for a trucking company. He was sending a truck to collect them and get them back to her home in Grant County. The final tally on beanie babies could reach nearly 200,000.

McComas said the homemakers are also paying to transport the toys to Iraq. She works through the Kentucky National Guard to find soldiers to send the toys to and hopes to begin also working with the Kentucky Air Guard to have some flown into the country. She has also gotten positive feedback from soldiers in the field. Some have sent pictures of the children with the new toys.

“I’m very pleased, but you know this is my second term as international chairman. I’ve served six out of the last 14 years and I’ve found that just like anything else - give homemakers a challenge and they will come to the cause and rise to whatever is needed. They are just very productive.”

For more information on the Homemakers’ organization, contact a county office of the UK Cooperative Extension Service.


René Siria, 502-848-4299