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America Supports You: Hero Hugs Delivering Holiday Cheer to Iraq

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2006 – Milk cartons stuffed with goodies and fashioned into presents, snowmen, elves and reindeer will be sent to Iraq to deliver troops a dose of holiday cheer from Hero Hugs.

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Bailey Reese, (far right) president of Hero Hugs, and her cheerleading squad, the Emerald City Jewels, show off holiday cards cheerleaders made at the Worldwide Spirit Association’s "Christmas at the Beach" cheerleading competition in Destin, Fla., on Dec. 3. The cheerleaders made several hundred cards for servicemembers. Courtesy photo

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Hero Hugs is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program highlighting ways Americans and the corporate sector support the nation’s servicemembers.

Bailey Reese, her faithful sidekick, Hero the stuffed bear, and their Hero Hugs organization hope to send at least 1,000 milk carton characters to servicemembers this holiday season, she said. They’ve had lots of help turning plain lunchroom milk cartons into miniature works of art to be stuffed with all sorts of snacks.

“My class as school is helping make them and we pack them with lots of stuff,” Bailey, 10, said of the packages that will include the servicemembers’ top request: chocolate.

“The soldiers told us they want chocolate because this is one of the few times in the year we can send it without it melting and making a big mess before it gets there,” Bailey said.

Among other edibles, each package also will include a handmade card, she said. “We sent kits out all over the country for the kids to help make the cards we will put in with the baskets and goodies,” Bailey said. “We have more cards than we can do packages, probably.”

The abundance of cards can be blamed squarely on the goodwill of cheerleaders at a competition in which Bailey participated. The cheerleaders took time between cheers to make cards, she said. In addition, a church also sent more than 1,500 cards.

“So, we will send some boxes of just cards, too,” Bailey said, adding that she may include some chocolate in those as well.

While the deadline has passed to donate items for the Christmas packages, Hero Hugs still has to ship those items. Bailey’s efforts through Hero Hugs earned the organization a $2,500 donation to help do just that.

Bailey was named one of Build-A-Bear Workshop’s 12 “Huggable Heroes” for 2006. A Huggable Hero is anyone under 18 making a “Pawsome” difference in their neighborhood, school or community.

“I was nominated for the award by Command Master Sgt. Jerry Blankenship from the Missouri Air National Guard,” she said. “(He) worked in the safety office at Balad Air Base (in Iraq) where many of my packages are sent and got to help pass out lots of my packages to soldiers.”

Blankenship will repeat the gesture when he starts another rotation in Iraq soon, she said.

Being chosen as a Huggable Hero also earned Bailey and Hero Hugs some Build-A-Bear gift cards. “I used those to make bears for some of the kids at my school who have a parent in Iraq because they like Hero so much and he makes them feel better,” she said of her stuffed bear who was created at a Build-A-Bear Workshop.

As a Huggable Hero, Bailey represents the month of May in the 2007 Huggable Heroes calendar produced by Build-A-Bear Workshop.

The calendar is free with any purchase at Build-A-Bear locations and Bailey has a suggestion for those who may want a calendar but don’t need a bear. “I have started getting a lot of requests from soldiers for a bear like Hero,” she said. “If anyone wants the calendar and can’t think of anything to buy, they can always make a bear and send it to Hero Hugs so we can send it to a soldier.”

It would seem that perhaps bears spread holiday cheer better than even chocolate.

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Related Sites:
Hero Hugs
America Supports You

Click photo for screen-resolution imageA 4-year-old child makes a card for servicemembers at the Worldwide Spirit Association cheerleading competition in Destin, Fla., on Dec. 3. Courtesy photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageBailey Reese poses with Hero the bear, and Darren DeMoss, CEO of Worldwide Spirit Association. Bailey, president of Hero Hugs, had cheerleaders make Christmas cards for the troops during a Dec. 3, competition in Destin, Fla. Courtesy photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageBailey Reese (third from left) and the rest of the "camo elves" use a Christmas parade float to remind people to support servicemembers. Hero Hug's vice president, Johannah Wolfe, and several of Bailey's classmates with parents deployed to Iraq packed super-sized packages for the troops as the float rolled by cheering crowds. Courtesy photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageBailey Reese's classmates in Niceville, Fla., helped her turn pint-size milk cartons into holiday character baskets. Reese is the founder of Hero Hugs, an America Supports You organization. She hopes to send 1,000 holiday packages to servicemembers overseas. Courtesy photo  
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