In July 2004, I read a magazine article telling the story of Operation Grateful, where soldiers in Iraq were giving out Beanie Babies to children as a gesture of friendship and goodwill. I responded to the article by donating my own collection of Beanie Babies, which I had begun collecting at age 7.
I soon realized I could help even more soldiers and children by expanding my effort and reaching out to friends, neighbors, and schoolmates to donate their Beanie Baby collections also. I created posters, flyers, and newsletters requesting donations; in the following weeks, I received and packaged thousands of the toys—sometimes 6,000 a day. I also visited elderly and ill individuals to collect their donations.
In a further effort to obtain as many of the toys as possible, I requested that my middle school hold a dance with the price of admission being one Beanie Baby. This effort netted thousands of toys. I also went directly to the manufacturer of the toys, Ty., Inc., and solicited a contribution to the cause. Ty responded to my email with a gift of over three thousand toys; I was 14 years old at the time.
Because the original sponsor of this project has concluded their involvement, I continue to run Operation Grateful by working with Major Bryan Haver of Tucson, an Army Reservist currently stationed in Afghanistan. I continue to solicit donations and package thousands of Beanie Babies in an effort to spread this goodwill project to children in Kabul, Afghanistan.
I have received several awards for my work with Operation Grateful, including the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, the Freedoms Foundation Volunteer Service Award, the Cox AIA After the Bell Award, a US Congressional Certificate of Recognition, the President's Volunteer Service Award, and the Governor's Service Award. Furthermore, I have been featured in local newspapers, including The Arizona Republic, and in US News and World Report. I have been featured also on local news channels, national news channels (CNN), and on the Pentagon's news station which broadcasts oversesas. Also, I was invited to the Pentagon in 2005 to receive recognition from the Chairman of the Joint Cheifs of Staff, Richard Myers, and the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz.
Since I first became involved with Operation Grateful, I have devoted nearly one thousand hours to the cause through soliciting donations, collecting, counting, packaging, and shipping the toys. To this date, I have shipped roughly 70,000 Beanie Babies and will continue the effort throughout the rest of my high school career.