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Posted on Friday, December 24 @ 11:54:23 MST by admin2

Suburban Newspaper-Front Page-12/23/04
Community celebrates effort for kids in Iraq
Local charity hopes other communities will take up the cause

BY JOHN DUNPHY














Staff Writer
MIGUEL JUAREZ staff During a celebration held by Bridges of Peace in Sayreville Dec. 16, Victoria Monte and Nicole Cetta (front l-r) and Kristie Bebert, Anthony Mariani and Jackie O?Connor (back, l-r) carry a box full of stuffed animals collected for children in the Middle East.

The children of Sayreville turned in no less than 3,500 treasured toys.But knowing they will be sent to those who may appreciate them even more ? the children of the war-torn Middle East ? made it all worth it.

Bridges of Peace, a nonprofit organization formed recently in Parlin, collected stuffed toys that U.S. soldiers will give to children in Iraq and Afghanistan. Collection boxes were located at all eight of the borough?s public schools over the past several weeks.

The efforts of all those involved in the project, from volunteers to school personnel to the children who pitched in, were honored last Thursday at the Bridges of Peace ?Send-Off of the Toys to the Soldiers? ceremony at Upper Elementary School, Ernston Road.

?We have had the support of this community and our U.S. soldiers, and for this we are honoring them tonight,? Diane Eleftheriades, president of Bridges of Peace and a member of the UES PTO, said during the ceremony. ?We are very grateful.?

Members of Bridges of Peace, which is about a year old, described the organization as being dedicated to raising awareness for peace and love through music and the arts, and to helping children whose lives have been affected by war and poverty. A major goal with the toy drive was to help relations between U.S. soldiers in Iraq and the people of that country.

By Dec. 9, 55 boxes of toys had been shipped out to three different locations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

?Everyone?s individual participation has enabled this bridge to be built,? said Karen Bebert, vice president of Bridges of Peace and president of the UES PTO. ?If one part is missing, the bridge cannot be completed. That is why we all need to join together to make something wonderful happen. And we did.?

The giving was not restricted to Sayreville. Eleftheriades spoke of a Girl Scout troop in East Brunswick that, upon hearing about the project on a local news program, was moved to help out, donating three additional boxes of toys.

?It meant a lot to them to do this,? she said.

The organization was first able to contact U.S. soldiers overseas through Bridges of Peace board member Elaine French, who lives in Brick Township and had previously sent supplies to soldiers through her church. The soldiers corresponded with the local charity and expressed a great interest in receiving and distributing the toys.

U.S. Army Maj. Stephen Stewart, a coordinator at the Iraqi Assistance Center, wrote the Bridges of Peace group upon hearing that the boxes had been shipped: ?My reward will be seeing smiles on the children?s faces when the toys are given to them.?

Thursday, awards were presented to all area schools for their efforts in making the toy drive a success.

U.S. Army Master Sgt. Robert Bruce and Civil Affairs Specialist Timothy Forbes were in attendance to receive an award from Bridges of Peace on behalf of the military.

Bruce, a borough police patrolman who returned from military service in Iraq earlier this year, chose to thank the children who, he said, ?gave of themselves, who gave their toys so they could be given over [in the Middle East].?

?The people of Sayreville always continue to garner my love and affection,? Mayor Kennedy O?Brien said. ?The hearts and minds and toy chests of Sayreville opened up.?

Superintendent of Schools Dennis Fyffe said the program had numerous benefits, including a direct benefit to children overseas living amid very dangerous cir****stances.

He said the program taught area children a valuable lesson, as well.

?We?ve worked very hard to instill community values in our young people,? Fyffe said. ?This is one more example of the benefit for our children.?

Eleftheriades said more toys were still slated to be sent overseas.

?More toys have been coming in, and we will ship them soon and continue the project to the next town or whoever is willing to take it on,? she said.

Anyone interested in running a drive in their own community should visit www.bridgepeace.org for more information, organizers said.

?Your generosity has overwhelmed us,? Bebert said. ?You have enabled us to supply our military with the ammunition that peace and love are made of.?

Link to article in the Suburban News Paper...
http://suburban.gmnews.com/news/2004/1223/Front_Page/001.html

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