Service members volunteer to help local children

Story and photos by: Spc. Lisa A. Cope
13th Sustainment Command (expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — In October 2007, during her second deployment to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, one woman was inspired by a 7-year-old boy named Saddam who had been injured by an improvised explosive device and was brought to the Air Force Theater Hospital.

“The hospital staff took him in as one of their own,” Air Force Capt. Marci Hoffman said. “No one could find his family since he just moved from a different city, so he was in the hospital for about a month.” 

“Every time I volunteered, we would play games, color, or watch TV.  He was such a cute kid,” said Hoffman, a Harrisburg, Pa., native.

When Saddam left the hospital, he was allowed to take with him one pillowcase full of donations, she said.

“I asked where the donations came from and how I could help,” she said.

In 2008, Hoffman founded Kids of Iraq, a nonprofit organization designed to improve the lives of Iraqi children, by fulfilling their basic needs and providing them with the means to a brighter future. The organization serves as a way to organize and store the donations that were already being made, she said.

To date, Kids of Iraq has organized more than 30 humanitarian drops and distributed more than 30,000 pounds of donations, she said.

“A lot of our drops start by U.S. troops picking up the donations, then they hand over the boxes to the Iraqi officials,” said Hoffman. “Those Iraqis then give the donations out to their own people to help establish a trusting relationship.”

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christopher J. Burgess, an electrical systems craftsman for the 332nd expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, and the director of operations for Kids of Iraq on Joint Base Balad, organizes meetings for the program every Wednesday at 8 a.m., at the connex used to store donations near Troy’s Place, behind the Maj. Troy L. Gilbert Memorial Chapel.

At the meetings, volunteers bring donated items and sort them for distribution by units that can to go to the villages, said Burgess, a Dracut, Mass., native.

Although the program has many service members who donate their time, physical items and monetary donations are lagging, said Burgess.

“The winter season is coming up, so we have been pushing for winter clothes,” said Burgess.

The program accepts donations of clothing, school supplies, blankets, hygiene items, toys or any other useful item, said Burgess.

“Soccer balls are the big thing in Iraq,” said Burgess. “Every kid wants a soccer ball.”

Spc. Amanda Maynard, an ammunitions specialist for the 13th Sustainment Command (expeditionary), said she plans on volunteering some of her time to the program while stationed on JBB.

Maynard, a Warren, Mich. native, said she plans to organize donations from friends and family members at home to help support the program.

Maynard said she hopes the program will make a difference in the quality of life of the local nationals.

Service members or units that want more information or to get involved with the program can visit the organization’s Web site: http://www.kidsofiraq.org or contact Burgess at: christopher.burgess@blab.afcent.af.mil.

 

news photo
Capt. Darren P. Bemis, commander of the 521st Air Mobility Operations Group Detachment 5, helps sort out donations at the Kids of Iraq meeting Sept. 23 on Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lisa A. Cope)

news photo
Service members donate their time to Kids of Iraq, a non-profit organization, to help sort donations and inflate soccer balls for distribution to local children Sept. 23, on Joint Base Balad.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lisa A. Cope)