CHAMPAIGN – Pfc. Brian Jolley says there's no language barrier when it comes to soldiers and Iraqi kids.
He had the idea a few months ago to hand out Beanie Babies, when he isn't busy finding roadside bombs as a combat engineer. The Champaign native, 21, told his mom about it, and his mom isn't one to do things on a minor scale.
Besides soccer balls, which initially were difficult to ship efficiently, Lori Stewart has sent thousands of Beanie Babies to Iraq as part of her program, http://www.toys-for-troops.com.
Her garage holds about 3,500 of them at present, ready to be sent off to Iraq.
Brian's father and stepmother, Jeff Jolley and wife, Michelle, who also live in Champaign, joined the effort, arranging for hundreds of Beanie Babies as well as for sending them to troops overseas. They have a similar number of Beanies ready to go into service.
"I like this baboon a lot," the private says, looking at a box of plush toys in his mom's garage.
The project's motto is "World Peace, One Plush Toy At A Time," and Pfc. Jolley says that about gets it right.
"They can't speak English, but you can tell from the thumbs-up and peace signs that they really like them," he said. "The parents, too. You can see the parents smiling as they drive away."
Jolley is on an 18-day furlough, and will return to Iraq about Aug. 20.
Stewart is sponsoring a spaghetti party on Sunday, starting at 4:30 pm. at the Esquire Lounge in downtown Champaign, with about 90 crockpots of spaghetti sauce, partially donated by the Spaghetti Shoppe in Savoy. Donations from the spaghetti dinner will help pay to transport the plush toys to Iraq.
Door prizes include oil changes, candles, Mary Kay baskets, car washes and gift certificates.
Another Champaign soldier serving in Baghdad, Marine Maj. Matthew Morgan, agreed that peacemaking is an important part of the U.S. mission.
"Everybody ultimately wants a situation that allows American forces to leave," he said in a telephone interview.
"The process requires a lot of patience. I understand from a historical perspective that this will take a very long time – it's certainly not going to happen overnight. There will be setbacks. But there are definite signs of progress that are rewarding to see."
Jolley, who said he would consider re-upping next June – or becoming a police officer like his dad – believes things are more peaceful than when he arrived in the desert in March.
"I think things are going well. I think things are a little friendlier. But it's a long process," he said.