Thanks to a local troop of Brownie Girl Scouts, hundreds of stuffed animals will soon make their way across the ocean to Iraq.
On Tuesday, Jan. 17, the troop began taking on the project: gathering boxes full of stuffed animals from classmates at Cherry Run Elementary School, packing up the boxes, and shipping them to Iraq, where American soldiers will distribute the toys to Iraqi children.
"We started like a week ago and we already have lots of stuffed animals," said Brownie Nicole Cannon.
Troop leader Kelly Bedingfield agreed. She does not know exactly how many stuffed animals the Brownies have collected yet, but has counted eight trash bags full as well as several large bins in the front hallway of Cherry Run.
"I keep running into moms that say, 'Oh, are you still collecting animals?'" said Bedingfield. Cherry Run students and families have been very generous, she said.
A year ago, Bedingfield and the Brownie troop adopted a platoon in Iraq, sending items to the soldiers. The platoon is no longer there, so this year Bedingfield contacted good friend Lt. Col. Mark Cuttle of the 490th Civil Affairs unit supporting the 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division to hand out donations to Iraqi children. According to Cuttle, the stuffed animals go a long way to help his unit's mission.
"As a civil affairs unit, one of the most important functions we have is to deliver positive messages to the Iraqi villagers we work with," wrote Cuttle via e-mail from Camp Stryker in Iraq.
The idea is to have to soldiers do something friendly for Iraqi children, said Bedingfield, so that the children receive positive messages from the troops and are not alarmed by the soldiers' military wear.
"I feel that in a sense we are going to win this war one village at a time, one backpack at a time, one kid at a time etc.," wrote Cuttle.
As for the troop members, they hope that the animals will bring cheer to the Iraqi children.
"It's hard because there's a war going on, and sometimes [Iraqi children] lose their family and friends," said Brownie Whitney King.
THE STUFFED ANIMAL collection is one in a long line of service projects completed by the troop, said Bedingfield. Besides adopting a platoon a year ago, she said, the girls also wrote Valentines to American soldiers in Iraq, thanking them for their service to the country.
"The soldiers are probably so appreciative of it," said Dawn Osterle, mother of troop member Kelly. "It kind of makes them feel closer to home."
The troop also participated in service projects closer to home, making sandwiches for the homeless at Martha's Table in Washington, D.C. and adopting a local family through Fairfax-based interfaith charity Our Daily Bread. The troop prepared Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for the family, said Bedingfield.
"We asked them if they had coats for the winter and it turns out they didn't have winter coats," she said. "Everybody chipped in what they had and it was a nice little project."
The girls enjoy participating in service projects, said Osterle. "It's very good for the kids," she said. "It's nice to give and help, and I think that it shows the kind of kids they are."
Having children become involved in service early on helps them become more socially aware, said Bedingfield.
"They really enjoy feeling like they are doing something for somebody else," she said. "Working on service and leadership and those things help, even at young age, to build those qualities."
Whitney agreed. "It feels good doing something for the world, not just for yourself," she said.