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America Supports You: Teen Continues Beanie Baby Drive for Iraqis

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 31, 2005 – What started out as a simple family project for an Arizona teenager has blossomed - make that snowballed - into a huge operation that's about to send the 50,000th Beanie Baby doll to troops in Iraq to distribute to local children.

Fourteen-year-old Alison Goulder is still at it, continuing a project to collect the stuffed critters for U.S. troops.

The soon-to-be-ninth-grader got the idea when she read in a magazine about Operation Grateful, an effort by law firm Greenberg Traurig to send care packages to troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany. The magazine quoted Joe Reeder, former undersecretary of the Army and now a partner with the law firm, as saying Beanie Babies were the top item on the troops' wish list.

Goulder, who started collecting Beanie Babies when she was 7 years old, took the article as a call to action. She and her sister Jenna and brother Greg began scouring through their closets. They came up with 80 Beanie Babies.

But that was soon to become the just tip of the iceberg. Alison's family members, friends and schoolmates started collecting the Beanie Babies, too.

Alison's original goal was to collect 1,000 of the critters. But by last December, she'd already gathered 28,000, earning her a visit to the Pentagon to be thanked personally by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff.

She also visited Greenberg Traurig's Washington law office, where she found one room so jam-packed with Beanie Babies she'd collected that "you could hardly walk into it," she told the American Forces Press Service.

Greenberg Traurig continues to ship all the Beanie Babies Alison collects to Iraq as part of their Operation Grateful campaign.

And to Alison's amazement, the Beanie Babies continue to arrive regularly at her Scottsdale home. They come from "all over," she said, fueled by articles in local newspapers and local TV stories about her effort. CNN ran a story about her efforts, and troops in Iraq learned about it on the Pentagon Channel.

Now she's considering taking the effort national, possibly creating a Web site to further publicize her efforts. "We're definitely expanding the project," she said, noting that she has "thousands" on hand, ready for shipment. Once they're distributed, this shipment will bring to 50,000 the number of Beanie Babies being enjoyed by young Iraqi children.

As the Beanie Baby collection effort has grown, it's remained a Goulder family project. "Everyone in the family helps count, sort and package" the dolls, Alison said.

What keeps them going, she said, is knowing that they're helping support the troops and what they're working to accomplish in Iraq.

Some soldiers have sent her personal notes of thanks, with photos of the Beanie Baby distribution. "That's something I never thought I'd get a chance to see," said Alison. "It's really a great feeling."

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