Friday, December 7, 2007

An Announcement

Instead of telling each and every one of you separately, I'm just going to let you read the letter I got last week. Here it is:

Ms. Stewart,

Our office has recently learned about your efforts to support our troops overseas. Toys for Troops is well recognized across the state and has grown beanie baby after beanie baby.

To recognize your efforts in supporting our troops, Lt. Governor Pat Quinn would like to recognize you as a Homefront Hero. The Homefront Hero Award goes to everyday people (civilians) who are making the extra effort to help out our soldiers, military families and Veterans.

To celebrate, we will be holding a press conference on Tuesday, December 11th at the State Capitol in Springfield. The press conference will be at 1pm and last approximately an hour.

Get out! I'm going to the state capitol on Tuesday, isn't that wild? A press conference! I'm already trying to compose myself, and Hollywood's Fightin Mad Mary has sent me a ton of TV tips, as she promised she would if I ever had to face a camera again.

The letter stated that I'll be asked to say a few words about the organization. It's difficult to summarize it, when I feel that so many deserve so much credit.

So many point out to me, when I say that, "YOU did, this Lori. This is YOUR doing."

I know, I know I've done my part. I have e-mailed and blogged and written letters and shaken hands and hugged friends and strangers, and sacrificed a bit of space in my garage.

But others. Jeff and Michelle have driven all over the state helping out. Jeff picks up my graphics and runs to have them made into signs and posters. He made our t-shirts, and has represented us at public affairs that I have been unable to attend, and applied for charity grants to help us pay for shipping. It is their friends that stepped up, and voluntarily maintain our website, and print our banners and posters.

Clint gives up at least a couple evenings a week, if not all of them, on a regular basis, to this organization. He helps me fold cards and stuff envelopes. He's offered up the use of his covered trailer, picks up tables and coffee pots and food on his days off, and on more than one occasion The Boy has shoo'd me out of the kitchen so that I can get back to printing labels and letters, while he whips out dinner to die for.

Local Marine Mom and friend Chris Lyke rallies for us constantly, collecting soldier's names for our mailing list, and making homemade cookies for "our sons. Friends! Melissa's trunk is consistently refilled with beanies as coworkers leave them at her desk. John Otto! Our attorney! My God, where would we be without him, how tired he must be of my e-mails asking questions such as "Is the EIN the same thing as our tax number?" Another friend for a quarter-century, Steve printed 2-part receipts and delivered them to my house IN FREEZING RAIN last week, so that I'd have them for the packing event.

Man, I'm telling you...I'm just standing over here with a big old stick, pointing out what needs to be done, compared to the rest of you.

I did not do this alone. I never could have, not in a million years.

In 7 months, the joint efforts of parents, siblings, and spouses of soldiers, and real, live actual soldiers have done this. Teachers and attorneys and restauranteurs have done this. Television reporters and newspaper reporters and deejays have done this, side by side with veterans, girl scouts, boy scouts, police officer and firefighters. Friends and family and seamstresses and bakers and businessmen have stepped up.

Bloggers! Lord, let's not forget the bloggers! You've mailed beanies, and boxes and money and you've put the word out there for me. As Sammy Sosa said, "Blogging been very very good to me." (It was him that said that, right? I get my politicians all mixed up.)

Lordy, I get in a tizzy just thinking about it! I can't say all of THIS on Tuesday, we'll only have an hour, you know, and there are 9 other recipients that have to take a turn, and I suppose the Lt. Gov. will want to say a few words.

I'll keep working on that. And I'll wear blue, and no flashy jewelry, and I won't look into the camera..

....and if any of you can give me a tip on how to speak in public about something that is so, so dear to you, without turning into a blubbering...well, MOM, then I'd sure like to hear them.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Christmas Event: Gifts to Soldiers

We packed. DVDs & CDs. T-shirts, socks and gloves. Footballs and Flashlights.

Stockings. Candy Canes. Cards & letters.

Community Encouragement. Hugs. Love.

Lifelong friends from high school came. Family came. New friends came. I laughed a lot. I teared up, with a few.

In 2.5 hours, we had gifts and necessities for every soldier on our list, and enough money to send our boxes. We had cookies and cocoa, and then we cleaned up, packed up, and were on our way.

Click HERE to see the photos from today's event.

Tomorrow: Post Office, Round 2! Yee-haw!

Thanks, thanks, forever thanks!

P. S. There's still time to participate! If you're interested in sending a gift to a soldier, hit me up, we'll make it happen!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Honorable Mentions


We're still racing around tying up loose ends to Saturday's event. We'll take about 100 boxes to the post office on Mattis Avenue at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning. Come on out and carry a box!


I don't know why I continue to be amazed at the community (and nationwide) support, but you guys knock my socks off every time. Hundreds of you showed up in person and in spirit, and...geez! All I had to do was ask! I can't get over it.

There are a few that went above and beyond to make this event a success, and I have to mention them here.

Allen Strong, my friend and owner of Silvercreek restaurant. I asked Allen if I could schedule the greenhouse for this event, and he handed it over. He also donated the brats, buns, condiments, and sodas. He had staff on hand to set up tables, and hook up my slide show, and pretty much to race around and see that we were taken care of. He hired a musician, Barbara Hamilton, to play for 2 hours of the event. Do not overlook the word donated above. Allen didn't charge us a dime for all of this.

Allen's wife (and also my friend) Nancy Strong (pictured above with Craig Weidert) showed up with her camera, told me to put mine away, and said she'd see that the event was photographically documented. She proceeded to run around, and stand on chairs and make people smile, and then gave me a CD with 150 photos on it.


Urbana's Assistant Chief of Police, Patrick Connolly contacted me early on with offers of help. He spearheaded a drive at the city building. He and his daughter showed up early with boxes of boxes of supplies, and a couple of envelopes with funds collected to help alleviate shipping costs. He stood outside and directed people in, and carried boxes all evening, while his daughter, Kate, worked inside. Though I only met him in person Saturday, I can't imagine not having had him there, helping out.


The Illini Women's Basketball Team contacted me to ask what they could do to help. I can't quite explain what it was like to have them make their entrance, ducking under the doorway and appearing in their sweats, ready to work. Work they did; they filled out address forms, wrote letters, and took their post at the end of our assembly line, sealing and labeling boxes. They gave autographs and posters to the kids, and we put glossies of the team into the boxes. It was a blast having them there.


Champaign Taste blogger Lisa Morgan put our cause on the Human Kinetics intranet, and worked with the warehouse there to save our boxes for us. Boxes might not seem like a big deal, but when you're looking for 100 boxes that meet postal standards of L x W x H of more than 84 but less than 108 inches, the friend that can supply them to you x infinity is quite valuable! Human Kinetics has come to my rescue on more than one occasion, going so far as to tear down the boxes and wheel them to my car for me.


And last but not least, volunteer Jesse Kurylo, showed up a second time to help us out. She was also at the spaghetti dinner. A National Guards(wo)man that was forced to stay home with a knee injury while her comrades were deployed, she says "I can't do nothing while my friends are over there." She showed up early and immediately set about making brilliant decisions while I stood around daftly saying "we hadn't thought this part through yet..." She is a whirlwind, and, I told her, should be paid to volunteer! She left our event to go work at another event. Voluntarily.

I wish I had time to name every single person that helped out, because every effort is worth mentioning. I met a lot of people I've corresponded with via e-mail. I hugged old friends and new ones, and appreciated every single person that showed up, some just to squeeze my hand and say "good luck," before moving on with their day. I appreciate the well wishes and e-mails that rolled in before the event, and so many that came in today, asking "how'd it go?!!"

As I said, I'm not sure why you surprise me. I just love that you bother.

And I'm sure, so will 100 more, in a few weeks when these packages arrive to their final destination.


If you'd like to see all of the photos Nancy took on Saturday night, click here:

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Holiday Care Packages

Dear Everybody,

As Toys for Troops continues to send beanie babies to the soldiers, we focus, now, on the upcoming holidays. We intend, with your help, to send care packages to every soldier on our list at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Please join us, to make sure this happens.


Our Thanksgiving care packages will be packed on November 3, as we cook brats in the Silvercreek parking lot, and come together in the greenhouse to pack up stuff for our boys. Brats will be provided; Bring a side or a dessert. In addition, everything on the Silvercreek menu, including appetizers, drinks, and desserts, will be available for purchase.

CARE PACKAGE DONATION ITEMS: Our Thanksgiving boxes will be care packages: If you'd like to donate, here are some standard items we'd love to send:

wet wipes brown or tan t-shirts
beef jerky AA batteries
energy bars magazines & books
trail mix zip-lock bags
sunflower seeds books
eye drops foot creams
aspirin sunscreen
CDs writing materials
playing cards
Powdered Gatorade, and powdered drink mixes
koozies to keep bottles and cans cool
long socks (boot length, black, green, or white)
toiletries, such as deodorant, foot creams, eye drops, lip balm, q-tips...or any other item that you think would make a soldier's day a little bit nicer.

We will also enclose every card and letter that you write in our packages. Bring 'em on!

I ask you to remember that I'm just one mom whose kid shipped out to Iraq 6 months ago. My friends remind me not to be humble, but I seriously need your help in order to make these events happen. I mean it now! :-D

The wrapping and packing party date and time for the Christmas event is still in the works, but we ARE going to make sure that every soldier on our list opens a gift from us at Christmas.

We're looking for "luxury" items for our Christmas packages. CDs. DVDs. Electronics. Sports items. I'm working on iPod Shuffles. If there's ANYTHING you can think of, to bring to our Christmas event, or to send us, please let us know. We want to wrap these gifts in Christmas paper, and send them soon after Thanksgiving to ensure their timely arrival.

Thank you so much for your time, and know this: Nothing that we've done so far could have happened without you, and the people you know. Please forward this to everyone in your e-mail contacts, and help us circulate the news of these events. You cannot understand how extraordinary that gesture alone will be in the success of these projects.

And thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Lori Stewart

Donations for either event can be brought to Silvercreek on Nov. 3, OR, mailed to

Lori Stewart
c/o Omegatype Typography
3101 W. Clark Road
Champaign, IL 61802

or contact us at any of the following:

Lori Stewart
Jeff Jolley
Michelle Jolley
Marcee Hampton,

Donation items can also be dropped off at the Champaign Police Department lobby.

P.S. I am attaching a photo Brian took of friends, in their "barracks." These boys are still living in tents. I encourage you to blow the picture up and scroll around, to see exactly where my son and his friends are living right now. Help me brainstorm about how we can make them a bit more comfortable! Yeah!

Thursday, September 20, 2007


When Brian left for Iraq, I ordered this bracelet I'd seen at an art show months before, made by Pam Kehoe Peterson. It's inscribed with the words:

"Live the Life You've Imagined"

I bought it as a reminder to myself not to wallow, as I worried about my son. I worried that I would wear thin on you, with my worrying. I am a "soldier's mother," yes, but I'm more than that, and I can do more than this. I might paint. Or something.

Many of you have watched the turn of events in my life, since Brian was deployed in March. You read the initial call, only 4 months ago, for beanie babies, and of my astonishment when I found myself with 60 of them! And then 500. You were here as cash donations began rolling in, and local businesses stepped up: Areawide Technologies continues to provide and maintain the website, for free. Dean's Blueprints has supplied, vinyl banners, printing and mounting posters. I distribute flyers that Custom Color Graphics printed for us, for nothing. So many local businesses sent gifts and services for our spaghetti dinner.

One more has come forward, to help me out.

Champaign Attorney John Otto was directed to my blog in March '06, when a piece I wrote about roadkill memorials ended up on the front page of the News Gazette. Roadkill. The entry I thought twice about, but closed my eyes and hit "Publish Post" anyway.

It was five days after that, that I wrote about Brian enlisting in the Army, and John read that one also. And he has been reading since, and occasionally sending words of encouragement, and support. Until 3 weeks ago, he was on my list of "Friends I Haven't Met Yet."

But I have met him now.

I have an announcement:

Mister Champaign Attorney John Otto has taken on, for free, all of the paperwork and legal work involved in establishing Toys for Troops as an official Not-for-Profit Organization. That's no picnic, honey; the IRS exemption application alone is 28 pages long.

I have another announcement:

Toys for Troops is now Incorporated.

Yes! I am now the President of Toys for Troops, Inc., NFP.

I preferred the title "Queen of Toys for Troops," but our attorney insists on following something called "The Law," which states that we must have a President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer. Jeff Jolley is the VP, Marcee Hampton is the Secretary, and I am doubling up as the treasurer until further notice. I'm going to wear the tiara anyway, when I want to.

And once again, the generosity of others has left me dumbstruck. Teary. Mooshy. Sentimental.

"Live the Life You've Imagined," my bracelet reads.


I find myself living a life that I never in a million years imagined.

It's pretty nice.

P.S. Thank you, John.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lots still happening in Beanie World. While we are busy mailing beanies, and YOU are busy mailing beanies, we are sneaking around and planning events behind your back. There will be cookouts and Thanksgiving packages, and Christmas gifts. We'll be at festivals, in schools, and...hey, we'll show up wherever you want us to be.

Next up on the calendar:

September 7 & 8, Virginia Theater

The News-Gazette is hosting a collection/drive to benefit Toys for Troops during The News-Gazette Film Series at the next movie, M*A*S*H next Friday and Saturday at the Virginia Theater.

Stop by and see us, and bring your beanies, soccer balls, and care-package items. The movie plays at 7:00 Friday night, and at 1:00 and 7:00 Saturday, and we'll be there before and after.

With the holidays fast approaching, we hope to expand our focus to care packages for the soldiers at Thanksgiving and Christmas. In addition to beanies, we're going to send each soldier on our list a box filled with some basic necessities, and a few gifts and luxuries. If you'd like to donate towards care packages, feel free to bring any of the following items:

  • wet wipes, beef jerky, energy bars, sunflower seeds, trail mix, Powdered Gatorade, and powdered drink mixes
  • koozies to keep bottles and cans cool
  • long socks (boot length, black, green, or white), brown or tan t-shirts
  • AA batteries
  • magazines & books
  • zip-lock bags
  • books
  • eye drops, aspirin, foot creams
  • toiletries, such as deodorant, foot creams, eye drops, lip balm, q-tips
  • sunscreen
  • writing materials
  • CDs, playing cards, dice
...or any other item that you think would make a soldier's day a little bit nicer.

At any rate, come and see the movie, and stop and say hello!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Spaghetti Dinner Wrap Up

Better late than never, I guess, but I do have some spaghetti dinner updates for you. I spent as much time as I could in the last week with Brian, before he shipped back out to Iraq. As I write, he's in Atlanta, waiting to board a plane to Germany. From there, Kuwait, Baghdad, and as he put it, "home."

Meanwhile, I owe an update. The spaghetti dinner evening was a phenomenal success. The Spaghetti Shop in Savoy gave us a great break on the price of Spaghetti for 200. Spaghetti for 200, by the way, pretty much fills up the back of a small SUV.

It is 10 days later, and I'm still blown away by the community's response. A dozen volunteers were at the ready by 3:30 in the afternoon, some of whom I'd never met before.

20 businesses and individuals donated over $1000 worth of door prizes. We had a 50/50 raffle also, and the tickets just sold themselves. Literally; we put the tickets and some cans on the pool table, and people just bought what they wanted.

Friends, family, people I've met, and people I'd never met, showed up throughout the evening. The Mayor and his wife graced us with their presence. So many people stopped to shake Brian's hand, and tell him thank you for what he does...I wish we could send this message back with every soldier that's heading back. Every single one. I'm going to have to figure out how to do that.

By Sunday evening's end, we had over $2000 in cash, added to nearly $1000 in PayPal donations the week before. Several people took boxes already packed and addressed to a soldier, and mailed them theirselves the week after.

Spaghetti, drinks, and laughter was had, and we walked away with enough money to send all we have, by now nearly 10,000 beanies. With a few corporate sponsors up our sleeves, we'll focus our efforts on soccer balls and care packages also.

A HUGE thanks to everyone that showed up, brought desserts, helped set up, helped do dishes, and to everyone that just said "you can do it, I know you can!"

You really were the wind beneath our wings.


To see more photos of the evening, click HERE.

And special thanks to these sponsors:

The Esquire Lounge, providing us with space and staff for the evening.
Dean's Blueprints

And for donations:

Body & Soul, Savoy
Boomerang, Urbana
Chilli's, Champaign
Courier Cafe, Urbana
Hairbenders Salon, Urbana
JM Jones, Urbana
Julen's Optical, Champaign
Lyn Oleson: Mia Bella Candles
Old Time Meat & Deli, Champaign
Outback Steakhouse, Champaign
Papa Del's, Champaign
Triple T Lube & Car Wash, Champaign
Silvercreek Restaurant, Urbana
Spa Envy & Salon, Champaign
Chris Lyke: Popcorn & movies
Lindsay Roseman, Mary Kaye basket
Laurie Anderson, Texas Blogger extraordinair
Dona Abel, friend, donated Best Buy gift certificate

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Gaining Momentum!

The Spaghetti Dinner's Updates

I'm not fixing it all myself, this time around; I couldn't figure out how to bring 90 crockpots of spaghetti sauce into the Esquire, all by myself. I wanted to. I really wanted to. At any rate, there will be spaghetti, with meat sauce, and without.

Door Prizes: Goodness, everyone has been so nice, donating doorprizes. We have oil changes, and candles, and Mary Kaye baskets, and car washes, and gift certificates, and pizzas and pedicures, and a bunch of other stuff I don't even know yet.

50/50 Drawing. Well, I bought the tickets for that, and I'm recruiting sunny pushy personalities to sell them on Sunday night.

I'm already amazed and excited about the community response to the idea. Financial donations are already rolling in from around the state, to help out with the dinner, and the cause.

If you volunteered to help out and you haven't heard from me, please e-mail me, and I'll catch you up further.

(French, for Respond So Very Promptly,
according to Laverne, on
Laverne & Shirley)

I know it will be a vague headcount, but if you're coming for sure, can you comment here, or send me a quick note, at It's difficult to know how much spaghetti to bring, will there be 40 or 400 at the party? Oooo, I hope it's 400, I want to meet each and every one of you!

Ok. Off to work. See you Sunday!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

WIXY Interview

My first radio interview! Steve & Melissa of WIXY invited me in yesterday morning.

To hear how it went, click HERE.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

VBS: Paxton Church of Christ

The kids at the Vacation Bible School at the Church of Christ in Paxton, Illinois, rallied for a week for Toys for Troops. They had one week to bring animals to their ranch: Beanie Animals.

Last week, they mailed 352 Beanies to 3 separate soldiers in Iraq.

Hey. I love you guys!

A few photos

As little as I've touched base here, you'd think that we've slowed down. Nothing could be further from the truth, we're busier than we've ever been.

Brian is home for 18 days. We've done TV, radio, and newspaper interviews. We're planning a fundraising spaghetti dinner, are talking to sponsors and shopping, and getting ready to mail at least half of our beanies, which now total 8000.

Monday, July 23, 2007

An amazing thing about blogging, and this Toys for Troops project, is the connections and friends I have made. I'm constantly amazed at who manages to find me. I wrote in May, about meeting these two soldiers:

Jessup, I noted, is on the right. I had asked him, that day, "Does your mother still cry?" It was not long before word got around to Jessup's Mother, that I'd written about, and put her son's photograph on my blog. Her name is Kathy Wallig. She wrote to me, then:
...Joel is absolutely right. I still cry. He's been to Kuwait and Germany and many of his friends were in the unit that came home from Iraq a year ago. I cry every time I see a soldier or anyone in uniform. I cry when I see flags flying. I cry when I see news reports about a deployment and the mothers and fathers and wives and husbands and children are waving flags and crying out every bit of tear they have...and then some. I cry when I hear the National Anthem...
She is also, of course, a soldier's Mother, and it's becoming more and more clear to me that a lot of our emotions are universal. I'm sure that soldier's father's cry over these things also. Absolutely sure of it.

Also universal is the desire to do anything that helps out, to make a difference in any of Our Boy's lives. It came as no surprise to me, then, that Kathy e-mailed me last week, asking me for a soldier's name; she had beanies, baby! And chapstick and socks and other sundry care-package items.

Here's her cute little doogie, Beau, assisting with the packing:

And Donna, at the Urbana post office, ringing up the package:

Her box, to Sgt. Robert Morris, who serves in the same company as Brian, is on its way!

More connections are being made, more lives are being touched every single day.

I'm amazed, daily, and thank everyone reading here, once again. Keep coming back, there's more to come!

Monday, July 16, 2007


Busy, busy, we are still going strong here. Last inventory was somewhere around 7,000 beanies ready to be boxed and shipped. There are sponsors in the works, to help cover the cost of shipping, so we're holding up sending for a few days. We hope to set aside the donations you have made to purchase other care package items, and soccer balls.

Sorry for the lack of photos today; I just wanted to send a shout out and let you know we're still going strong!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Kelsey, Danville

This is Kelsey, from Danville, Illinois. She and her mother, Lori, gathered up their beanies and shipped them out this week. Her aunt, who lives in Missouri, is doing the same thing, and will be shipping theirs soon also. Nice to get the entire family involved, from all over the U.S.! Thanks, guys!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Thank You Note Ambassadors

Here are a few more of the TFT Ambassadors, Kaylin and Jaeden. They wanted to do something, so I put them in charge of thank-you notes.

There are several out there just sending checks, and making PayPal donations. Some people I know in person, some I'm acquainted with through cyber-world, and others, I've never heard of. Those I can't thank in person, shake their hands, or give big giant hugs to, are getting cards in the mail made by these two sweeties.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

19 for a penny

Bryan, from River Ridge, Louisiana, read about our little project on Wil's blog, Paradise Driver, from Hawaii.

He e-mailed me, with the subject line, "I want to help," and wanted to know where he could buy Beanies to send. Geez, I never expected anyone to go out and buy Beanies; I just thought I'd help you clean out your attic for a good cause.

Before I could get back to him, I got a 2nd email:

Bryan had bought 19 beanies for 1 penny, on E-bay, and would like to know where to send them, thank you very much.

YEAH! Bryan rocks! I think I'll let him do all of my shopping from now on!

Monday, July 2, 2007


This is Kyle, from Cupertino, California. I got an e-mail from him the day after the TFT website was launched. He would, he said, like to meet me somewhere to pick up some beanie babies, and to foot the cost of some shipping.

It was then that I was aware that I'd overlooked placing my own city on the website. As much as I'd have loved flying to California to give Kyle a box o' beanies, it wasn't that economical. I couldn't even meet him at the half-way point, really.

But Kyle wanted to DO something. I gave him a few ideas.

I got an email back from him this week. It reads, in part:

I just got back from the PO where I sent off a
package with the following enclosed;

4 deflated soccer balls
6 inflation needles
4 packs Tabasco flavored hot peanuts (they are GOOD
4 packs Beef Jerky
10 pounds of homemade trail mix (peanuts, M&Ms, and
1 note saying hi and keep your head low

Speechless, I was, reading this. Shaking my head, and just...speechless. Though I always think people are generally nice, I can't seem to wrap my mind around all of you nice people that are going way out of your way to play along with us.

I know the young man that Kyle's package is going to. He's been in my home a few times, and I've driven him back and forth to Georgia, along with Brian. He's an artist, and he enjoyed Art Co-op, while he was in this town. He holds your door for you. He asks you to turn up the stand-up comedy, when it shuffles through the iPod. For an hour or so, on one of our trips, he read odd facts to us from a "useless knowledge" book I bought Brian for his birthday. He's looking forward to college, when he's done in the Army.

And Kyle did a very nice thing, for this young man, One of Ours. Just like that, he just went out and went shopping, and packed up a box and shipped it off. Just like that!

And you know what just kills me?

Kyle thanked ME, for "the opportunity to share in the helping."

I still shake my head, as I write.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I recently wrote that I could tell you a story a day for a year, based solely on my encounters from the few weeks since this project was officially "launched." So, why don't I?

Ok, I will.

Let's touch back on that Beanie-counting contest then, shall we?

The thing that surprised us most was how many people had no interest in playing. Hey! Free $100, who couldn't use that?! Gobs of people, that's who. No matter, we sure had fun with those that played along.

It was fun to watch the scientific guessing "systems."

Some, adults and children alike, stood for several minutes, counting, and multiplying the area x the square root of pi.

Many accused us of stacking the pile with pillows or boxes, thus throwing off their guess. Nope. Solid beanies.

Some guessed their birthday.

Guesses ran the gamut from 84 to ...

...355 billion.

The contest contributed to a lot of fun at the festival, enabled us to shake a lot of hands, hand out a few business cards, and promote our cause. I've heard from several that day, that stopped by the table (and am still trying to catch up on the e-mail!)

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Dean's Blueprints of Champaign, Il, was kind enough to help us out at the booth this weekend, by donating their graphic-covered scion, and $100 prize money to the person that could come closest to guessing how many beanies babies we fit in the back of it. Several of you are checking in to see how close you came in your guess. There were 632 beanies stacked there. 9-year old Gabby Anderson was the closest, with a guess of 637. Congrats to Gabby, and a giant heartwarming thanks to Dean's; it made our booth a big hit this weekend!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Little Background

I am overwhelmingly touched to be putting my energy into a new project that, with the assistance of friends and family, we have coined “Toys for Troops."

My 21-year-old son, PFC Brian Jolley, left in March, to begin serving an 18-month tour in Iraq. Shortly after he arrived, he asked me to send him a soccer ball, at the request of the Iraqi children he’d encountered. I promised him I’d research the soccer balls, and, in the interim, send him beanie babies. I put out an APB for Beanie Babies on my blog on that day.

I had 20, in two days. 80, in a week. And since I asked, I’ve been given hundreds of beanie babies, and hundreds more have been directly shipped to him.

I’ll admit: I panicked, at first. “My son is going to think I’ve gone off the deep end,” I’ve worried, on tougher days. Our boys in Iraq are hot. They’re sweaty. They’re dirty. They’re exhausted. They are carrying out missions every day, that Mama’s don’t care to hear about. And yet, there’s Jolley’s mother, sending mountains stuffed toys. “What am I doing?”

But I got word from my son last week:

the kids love the beanies. we go through however many you guys send in about one mission’s time.

And I spoke with him again today. There cannot be too many beanie babies, folks. The children are vying for them. The soldiers are asking for them; they want a box on their trucks. In addition, the interpreter on Brian’s truck has indicated that they’re making a huge difference in the relationship between the soldiers and the villages they are working in.

After all, the kids are smiling. Their parents are smiling. Our boys are smiling.

And I am smiling.