March 10, 2005
|A UMNS photo courtesy of Barbara Cerniauskas
National Guardsman Chris Cerniauskas shares small toys with Iraqi children while on patrol.
A UMNS Feature
By John Gordon*
Chris Cerniauskas carries the weapons of war as he patrols the streets
of Iraq, but his pockets also bulge with small, stuffed animals and toys
for Iraqi children.
to his Sunday school class at First United Methodist Church of Baton
Rouge, La.—and a community that embraced the idea—"Operation Stuffed
Animal" has distributed more than 3,000 toys to youngsters in war-torn
not saying a stuffed animal will save the world or will end the
violence," Cerniauskas wrote in an e-mail home. "There are some very bad
people over here that do horrible, horrible things. But it does show
goodness, kindness (and) love of children" by Americans through the
small gestures of their soldier ambassadors.
Sunday school class came up with the idea of collecting toys but never
expected such a big response from the community. Baton Rouge residents
have donated boxes and boxes of toys through six drop-off sites,
including First United Methodist, University United Methodist and St.
Andrews United Methodist churches and a local radio station.
more toys in here than Toys R Us has, I think," said John Black, who
owns a UPS Store in Baton Rouge and agreed to box the trinkets at no
charge. "If we’re ever going to win their hearts and (the) minds of the
world, it’s got to start with the kids."
who works for the state office of emergency preparedness in Louisiana,
is deployed with the 256th Brigade Combat Team of the Louisiana National
Guard and scheduled to return home at the end of 2005.
His team makes
routine patrols assisting Iraqi cities with repairing water lines and
roads, procuring generators for power and providing supplies. During
these patrols, soldiers come in contact with Iraqi families and
children, providing the perfect opportunity to hand out toys, laugh and
|A UMNS photo by John Gordon
Barbara Cerniauskas poses with some of the thousands of toys her Baton Rouge, La. Sunday school class is sending to Iraq.
"Chris is one of many of our soldiers who are big, tough guys, but have a big, big heart as well," said his wife, Barbara.
The toys have been a hit.
has told me that when the children see our soldiers coming, they’ll
start yelling, ‘Mister, Mister,’ and have their arms outreached to see
if they will have anything for the kids," said Barbara Cerniauskas. "It
sort of establishes a level of trust between the children and our
soldiers, just to let them know that we are there to help them and we
want to help them to have a better life."
members of their Sunday school class have been divided over the
politics of invading Iraq, they have found common ground in the
motivation behind Operation Stuffed Animal.
children are really the innocent," said Carla Ledya, a social worker.
"And it was really an easy choice to do something for them. It really
doesn’t matter how you feel about the war."
report unexpected benefits of distributing toys. Several children have
warned U.S. troops of dangers, such as land mines or buried bombs.
Interaction with children also has been a source of joy for the soldiers
We ask our soldiers to do some very difficult things while they’re over
here," Cerniauskas wrote home. "Handing out stuffed toys that bring
happiness and smiles to beautiful children is not one of them. It makes
them feel good, and they love doing it."
*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer in Marshall, Texas.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or email@example.com.