A mission of mercy for Iraqi children in need

A sampling of soft toys and basic supplies to be shipped to an APO box in New York. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
A sampling of soft toys and basic supplies to be shipped to an APO box in New York.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Two islanders are collecting small items for youngsters caught in the ongoing war.

Bill Touchette and Elaine Tanner understand that people have differing opinions about the conflict in Iraq. But politics don’t matter so much to them right now.

They’re interested in tapping in to islanders’ resourcefulness and good will to benefit the children of Iraq, who exist in a day-to-day struggle that goes beyond politics.

“I can’t think of anyone who is not interested in doing something positive out there,” Touchette said.

Several months ago, Lt. Col. James Lukehart, a U.S. Army reservist stationed in Baghdad, emailed his old friend Touchette with an update on his activities in Iraq.

In the midst of his duties as a member of the 411th Engineer Brigade, Lukehart had also begun a campaign to collect medical supplies, school supplies and toys from folks back in Seattle.

The children of embattled Baghdad lacked the basics that many U.S. children take for granted, and Lukehart felt compelled to help.

An inspired Touchette teamed with Tanner, his colleague at Windermere Real Estate, to organize a similar effort on Bainbridge. The two printed flyers to post around town, secured an information table at Town & Country during its Earth Day festivities and started spreading the word.

Their aim was to collect the types of low-tech basics they knew most islanders could easily access – bandages, burn ointment, pencils and kids’ shoes among other things – and then ship the supplies directly to Lukehart for distribution to Iraqi citizens.

Toys were also high on the list, particularly yet-to-be-inflated soccer balls – Iraqi kids play soccer – and Beanie Babies. Those are easy to stuff into boxes, available in abundance from young collectors who may have outgrown them and above all, cuddly.

“This at least gives (the children) an opportunity to have something to hug,” Tanner said.

Tanner and Touchette are taking the donations any way they can get them. They’ve set up drop boxes at Bainbridge Bakers and That’s A Some Pizza, and Tanner said they’re even willing to make pickups if people can’t get to the drop areas.

The project’s logistics involve a lot of elbow grease on Tanner’s and Touchette’s part. They sort the received supplies and remove extra packaging as necessary to reduce bulk.

Then they stuff as much as they can into small, Postal Service-approved flat-rate boxes with no weight limit. The boxes cost $8.10 to ship, and Tanner and Touchette have been footing the bill.

Touchette estimates that they’ve shipped 30 boxes from the Bainbridge post office to an APO box in New York; they make their way from there directly to Lukehart in Baghdad. Lukehart stays in touch with Touchette by email and has gratefully confirmed the receipt and distribution of the supplies sent so far.

At this point, Tanner and Touchette would love to expand and formalize their effort with the help of interested and connected Bainbridge residents.

They’re hoping that someone in the sports or medical community might be able to obtain bulk donations or that someone with a transportation connection could organize truck deliveries to New York so that the operation is no longer limited to the tiny boxes that Tanner, Touchette and the Windermere office staff can stuff.

“It’s sad that this is such an inefficient way of getting supplies to the children of Iraq,” Touchette said. “We could make a real drive if there was some way of getting it from here to New York.”

In the meantime, Touchette and Tanner are thrilled with the island’s response and encourage people to keep the donations coming.

“So many people feel frustrated by the war and the fact that we’re so helpless to do anything,” Tanner said. “And this is an avenue to do something.”


In the crossfire

To contribute to the supplies for Iraqi children program, contact Bill Touchette at (206) 383-2716 or, or call Elaine Tanner at 842-3191. They can provide a complete list of needed supplies; cash donations toward shipping costs are also welcome.

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