In October, members of the Marine Aviation Officer’s Spouses Club thought about what they could do from home to assist Marines and their mission in Afghanistan this holiday season. After corresponding with deployed Marines, they determined that sending gifts for Afghan children in the form of small, stuffed animals could portray warm greetings from America.
Beanie Babies were perfect for the mission.
“The children can never get enough Beanie Babies,” said Bonnie Amos, spouse of Gen. James F. Amos, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps and an advisor for the Marine Officers’ Spouses’ Club of Washington, D.C. “They are small, cuddly, and attractive. They touch the heart of children and fit in Marines’ pockets without adding any appreciable weight to their load.”
The small gesture of giving provides Marines with an opportunity to connect with the Afghan people.
“I’m a dreamer but I like to think that we are possibly saving Marines’ lives,” Amos said. “A Marine handing a Beanie Baby to a child creates a very tangible connection that is portrayed in its delivery.”
Amos said she believes a child might remember that this Marine was kind to her and her family in turn might want to advise Marines of enemy activity.
“If they are touched by the kindness of Marines, this can be a relationship-builder between the Marines and tribal leaders,” she added. “Although it sounds a little [far-fetched], stranger things have happened through an act of kindness.”
After members of the aviation officers’ spouses’ club and the officers’ spouses’ club in Washington enthusiastically began efforts to generate donations, it didn’t take long for Beanie Babies to begin pouring in. The collection quickly outgrew the Amos’ basement and its initial goal of 10,000.
“We realize there was a level of personalized interest in this event,” said Amos.
Many spouses of Marines currently engaged in operations throughout Afghanistan actively spearheaded collections efforts. Clara Olivo, whose children donated 70 of their own Beanie Babies, was personally driven to the cause as her husband is currently deployed.
Olivo enlisted the help of family and friends throughout the country, to collect the stuffed animals. In the last month, Boy and Girl Scout troops, churches, schools and even a Florida women’s motorcycle club sent thousands of Beanie Babies her way.
“The response was overwhelming,” Olivo said. “It’s amazing how people just want to help.
“I hope [the Beanie Babies] are received in the spirit they are given,” she added.
With a war that continues to affect people throughout the U.S., military families and those without military ties alike were compelled to assist.
“As a spouse, I feel a strong urge to support those overseas,” said Molly Blake, also a member of the officers’ spouses’ club in Washington.
The Blake family showed their 5-year-old daughter where Afghanistan was on a map and explained that the Marines there needed the Beanie Babies for the children.
“She understood that she was helping other Marines that aren’t home with their families,” said Blake.
The Blakes collected 600 Beanie Babies from the students and faculty of Chesterbrooke Elementary School in McLean, Va.
“There are hardly any military families at my daughter’s school but they jumped at the chance to help,” she added.
Among the list of donors, the Ty Corporation, the makers of the Beanie Baby, contributed more than 48,000 of their trademark Beanie Babies to the cause.
Their generous donation and the entrepreneurial spirit of Marine spouses gathered nearly 75,000 Beanie Babies, said Amos.
More than 15,000 Beanie Babies have been delivered to units in Afghanistan and are being distributed by Marines in their areas of operation.
Several thousand Beanie Babies, stored at Marine Barracks Washington, will be heading to their final destination when the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps makes a special visit to Marines in Afghanistan later this month.
“We’ve been at war for nine years and America is tired, but I don’t think she is tired of our men and women in uniform,” Amos said. “Everywhere we go, people want to know what they can do for our troops.”
In this season of giving, America has not forgotten her troops or their mission overseas. Thousands have contributed their time, energy and Beanie Babies in order to assist Marines in gaining the respect and confidence of the Afghan population.
The collection has been nothing short of a success, Amos said. Depending on the response the leadership receives in regards to the Beanie Babies, a similar collection may begin next fall.