Champaign mother collecting toys for son to give to Iraqi kids

Champaign mother collecting toys for son to give to Iraqi kids

CHAMPAIGN – Army Pfc. Brian Jolley is making friends in Iraq, handing out Beanie Babies to the kids.

The combat engineer has been in Iraq about three months, sleeping in a tent in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. The 21-year-old's camp, Butler Range, is still under construction. His missions include finding and destroying improvised explosive devices.

But the Centennial High School grad has found himself in the Army, his parents say, and enjoys making friends with the kids he meets.

His mother, Lori Stewart of Champaign, started sending the Beanie Babies on May 9, after he made a request for soccer balls. The kids were miming a request for them.

"I couldn't find a good way to smoosh soccer balls into a box," Stewart says.

Instead, she started sending Beanie Babies, which her son says have proved to be a big hit – not just with the children, but with the soldiers, too. The interpreter in Jolley's company said they're great for improving relations among the soldiers and the Iraqi villages.

Now, Stewart's project has gone national, with a Web site, toys-for-troops.com, and donors from as far away as Baltimore.

At the site, you can find out how to send beanies to a soldier of your choice. In a few days, there will be a PayPal account to help defray postage costs. And, if what you really want to do is send a soccer ball, there's a way to do that, too.

Stewart started publicizing the effort on her blog, gnightgirl.blogspot.com, where a fellow blogger, Wendy Scherer of Baltimore, picked up the mission and made Brian well-known in Maryland.

Brian's other parents, Champaign police officers Jeff and Michelle Jolley, quickly joined the project, finding a sponsor for the Web site, Area-Wide Technologies of Champaign.

"We've been spoiling him with two CARE packages a week" between the two moms, Michelle Jolley said.

Brian Jolley has two siblings, Dustin, 14, and Emily, 13. The families are hoping he'll be here on leave next month.

On Friday, Stewart had 240 beanies in her living room ready to be delivered – 170 of them from one donor. She's been given some at garage sales as well.

Each load she has sent out has taken Brian Jolley a full mission of one to three days to disperse. Now the effort has been widened to other soldiers serving in Iraq, and the Web site will post names for donors to send the beanies to.

Stewart, an artist and printer, said she's striving to be sensitive to Islamic culture in selecting the dolls, avoiding any overt Christian symbols. A unicorn made the cut, though, and she's on the lookout for some soldier beanies.

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