February 7, 2007 | By: Carol Lea Spence
LEXINGTON, KY.

In the dark of a war-torn night, a wee child half a world away clutches a soft, animal-shaped bundle. The homemaker who sent the stuffed toy via the pocket of a U.S. service person somehow senses the comfort that small token has brought to the child and hopes her message gets through.

“It’s some way that we could touch their lives and say ‘Hey, we’re thinking about you and we want to send a little love in this little animal,’” said Marlene McComas, international chairperson for the Kentucky Extension Homemakers Association.

“Every year we try to come up with a very good, viable community service project, an international project,” she said. “And this year we decided we would like to work with the children of Iraq who are the victims of the war. And explain to them in the best way that we could that we are not bad people, that we’re very concerned about children and their families and helping them have as a good a life as possible.”

This year’s international project, Beanie Babies for Iraq, got its impetus from Beanies for Baghdad, a national program that sends the pocket-sized toys to troops in Iraq to distribute to children they encounter. The Homemakers’ project is called Beanie Babies for Iraq because they are delivered all over Iraq with the help of troops in the Kentucky National Guard. McComas worked with the Guard for more than a year and a half to set up the project.

The first contributions of toys arrived during the fall Homemakers’ board meeting in November, with more collections planned for the spring board meeting in March and the annual state meeting at the end of April.

“The first people who gave me Beanie Babies were from Todd County,” said McComas, remembering the many bags and boxes that held those initial 400 toys. 

Other area presidents helped to stuff her van with their clubs’ contributions, too. McComas laughs when she remembers that drive home.

“I came home with just barely enough room to see out the mirrors and drive. My van was so full,” she said.

To date, McComas estimates that the organization has sent more than 5,000 of the stuffed toys to Iraq. And that may be just a drop in the bucket because clubs in all 120 counties are still collecting from their members, other community groups and local businesses. In Letcher County, Vernell Mullins has involved her church to help collect the toys. And Dawahares contributed to Clark County’s drive. The retail clothing chain donated 400 of the 590 toys that the clubs in Clark County recently sent to McComas.

Expanding on the idea, Jennifer Howard, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension family and consumer sciences agent in Clark County, said they held onto some of the Beanies they’d collected. They will be included in personal care packages that their Homemakers clubs and 4-H Tween club are assembling for the approximately 40 Clark County residents currently serving in Iraq. There will be a little something for the troops – home baked cookies and Ale-8-One – and a little something for an Iraqi child.

“They’re small enough to put into their pocket,” said Howard. “As they’re out on patrol and see children, instead of giving them candy, which is traditional, they will give them a Beanie Baby, which is something that the children can comfort.”

McComas said that Homemakers around the state have been enthusiastic about the project and have welcomed the opportunity to contribute something to those who are suffering in Iraq.

“Everybody wants to do something to help, but they don’t know what to do,” she said. “Most of us (in Homemakers) have been 4-H’ers somewhere along the line. In 4-H we talk about ‘warm fuzzies,’ that little special feeling that you get when you have pride in what you do…. Sending Beanie Babies over to the children of Iraq is a little warm fuzzy.”

Dianne Higgins from Todd County and Homemaker chairperson for marketing and merchandising at the state level said, “It was just one of those things that was close to your heart. We felt like we could – oh, how do I put this – you couldn’t see it, but you could feel it. Even though we didn’t see them give them the toys, we all have children and love children and know that a small toy brings a light to their eyes. And it brings trust to them.”

Contact your local Extension office or any Extension Homemaker to find out how you can contribute to this project. Small, pocket-sized stuffed animals will be accepted. McComas said they will also be happy to accept monetary donations to cover the cost of shipping the toys to Iraq. It costs approximately $70 to ship a 60- to 70-pound box of toys and McComas has been covering most of that expense herself. Donations to KEHA are tax-deductible. Checks should be made out to Kentucky Extension Homemakers Association. Indicate on the check that it is for the Beanie Babies for Iraq project. Checks should be mailed to Burnell Caswell, 780 Clintonville Road, Paris, Ky., 40361.

Contact: 

Marlene McComas, 859-824-5891, Jennifer Howard, 859-744-4682, Dianne Higgins, 270-265-5239