When soldiers recently handed out toys and school supplies to Iraqi children as part of Operation Reach Out America, they got ear-to-ear smiles in return.
Smiles such as those aren't seen on the children's faces that often, Major Joel Hagy, who helped start the program, told his friend Julie Spitzley through a recent e-mail.
Such details inspired Spitzley, who owns Storm Mountain Coffee Roasters in Oak Creek, to start collecting donations of small toys and school supplies to send abroad.
Spitzley and her husband already had been sending coffee to the soldiers when she learned about the thousands of children in Iraq who had little to nothing of their own.
She posted signs about the program and waited to see whether donations would come.
In the past month and a half, donations have poured in. Residents from across the county have brought in so many pens, erasers, paper and small toys that seven boxes have been jam-packed with the supplies. The boxes were shipped off Friday.
"I was just so proud of our community. I was just so proud of everybody," Spitzley said about the donations.
She said she was especially amazed by the number of children who stopped by with their parents to give something of their own.
"The kids went through all of their toy boxes for toys for these kids who have nothing," she said.
Spitzley especially remembers two little girls who put together a big bag with purses, toys and other fun items to donate, and a girl from Japan who brought taffy and small pieces of candy, saying she knew from experience that in such a situation, a little candy could give children a huge lift. Other children drew pictures and wrote letters.
There were many donations from individuals, as well as some larger donations from the South Routt Bible Church, the Phippsburg thrift store and Wal-Mart, Spitzley said. The Steamboat Pilates and Fitness Center also collected toys and school supplies.
Spitzley started the effort to raise community awareness in the hope that others would collect their own tidbits and send them.
Donations can be mailed to Cpt. Brian Gillo; Operation Reach Out America; Camp War Eagle; HHC 1/12 CAV Unit 90023; APO, AE 09373. The program recommends sending small toys. Otherwise, children could be mugged.
-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org