COLUMBIA — Tiny animals with names like Squealer the Pig or Patti the Platypus just don't have the same status as they did during the Beanie Baby fad of the 1990s.
Jennifer Roberts hopes Beanie Baby owners these days will consider a higher use for the stuffed toys than keeping them as collectibles: sending them to children in war zones.
Roberts, a photographer who owns Moonshadow Studio in Columbia, has organized Operation Beanie Baby Rescue to collect Beanie Babies and send them to U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq for distribution to children.
“There are little kids over there that could use something to hold on to,” Roberts said, adding that the toys can also help spread goodwill between soldiers and civilians.
The motivation behind Operation Beanie Baby Rescue, Roberts said, is to give children here the opportunity to become involved as a way to help them process the images of war they see on television and "help to create peace within that setting."
Shepard Elementary School, where Roberts’ daughter Meara is enrolled, is among the locations for dropping off Beanie Babies. Her kindergarten class, taught by Tracie Downs, counted 563 beanies in their inventory on Friday.
“It’ll be just like giving every child in Shepard a beanie. I can’t believe it,” Downs said.
Shepard Principal Jonetta Weaver has extended a friendly challenge to other schools to see who will raise the most.
The friendly competition appears to be taking off.
"I'm sure that we have way more than Mrs. Weaver has collected," Ridgeway Elementary Principal Ben Tilley said on Tuesday. He boasted that the container storing the donated Beanie Babies was fairly full, but didn't have a count.
Roberts estimated donations total a couple thousand and she has high hopes of making a Guinness World Record for the largest collection of Beanie Babies. She has set up 20 drop-off locations throughout Columbia and hopes to add at least five more. The project has expanded to Centralia and Quincy, Ill., as well.
The project is also collecting items such as lip balm, sunscreen and batteries for the troops, as well as handwritten thank-you notes.
Collection will continue through next Wednesday. The toys will be counted and packaged at Boone Landing retirement home, retrieved by Federal Express and sent to Operation Give in Salt Lake City. From there, the Beanie Babies and supplies will be shipped to the Humanitarian Operation Center in Kuwait City.
Operation Give will cover all shipping costs. Director Paul Holton, who was previously stationed in the Middle East, has been shipping supplies there since 2004. So far, he has shipped 75 containers at $6,000 a piece.