Sending toys into war

Columbia drive will provide toys for children in Iraq
Thursday, December 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:21 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Jennifer Roberts of Columbia is trying to send 1,000 toys to children in Iraq. She says it is her way of feeling proud to be an American.

“I’m a mom, and I, for whatever reason, just feel it is our responsibility to take care of the kids over there that have suffered as a result of the occupation,” she said. “I want to be proud to be an American and people need to do something as Americans to contribute to the ideals that our country represents.”

When Roberts set out to put the drive in motion, she realized the cost of getting the toys to Iraq could be astronomical. Sending just one toy to Iraq via available shipping methods would have cost $50 or more, she said. She realized she needed help.

“I just went online and did a Google search for ‘toys in Iraq,’ and that’s how I found out about Operation Give,” Roberts said.

The organization was begun after Web-logging by Chief Warrant Officer Paul Holton, who was stationed in Baghdad, discussed the situation there and the need for good relations between the soldiers and the children of Iraq, said Dean Esmay, a board member and co-founder of Operation Give.

He said one of the chief’s logs had quite an impact on him and other readers.

“One day he spotted a girl with no shoes near the base and he ran inside and got something to give to her,” Esmay said. “He wrote that he’d really like to do more.”

A short time after that log, Esmay and the other co-founders started Operation Give as a way of getting toys for the soldiers to distribute in Iraq.

Esmay said one of the current projects of the organization is getting toys to the Iraqi city of Fallujah, the scene of particularly heated conflict. In fact, all of the toys donated in Columbia will be specially earmarked for Fallujah.

“They’ve really gone through hell,” Esmay said. “We really want to make it better over there.”

That is Roberts’ hope as well. She said that as a parent, the images of Iraqi children caused her to think about her own child and the privileged situation she enjoys as a kid in the United States.

“It’s really not a political statement,” Roberts said. “I’m just a mother who feels that my kid is so lucky and has so much and is so safe, and the kids over there are just like the kids here. I recognize the need for kids to be kids.”

Roberts estimates the number of toys already donated at more than 250. She said she hopes people will buy new toys for the drive and not just donate hand-me-downs their children no longer want.

“There’s nothing we’re going to turn down unless it’s a violent toy, but we want these kids to feel special and that these toys are just for them,” she said. “These kids don’t get new toys so it’s a really big deal to them.”

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