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Local efforts give peace a helping hand

| June 23, 2004 12:00 AM

By Brent Shrum, Western News Reporter

Children¹s shoes, toys, candy, toothbrushes and school supplies collected in Lincoln County are helping win hearts and minds in Iraq and may even be saving lives.

Local efforts began after David Windom of Libby, who is serving on active duty with his Washington National Guard unit, asked his mother, Lincoln County Commissioner Rita Windom, to help round up some desperately needed items.

³The children have no shoes at all, and the streets run with raw sewage and the kids would come into the clinics with infected feet,² Rita Windom said.

Some of the children have never tasted sweets, she said.

³It¹s something that the soldiers can carry in their pockets and when the little kids come up to them, they can give them something,² she said.

She said her son reported that the goodwill forged with Iraqi children has helped save lives.

³He said the kids have been instrumental in telling them where the bombs are and where the bad guys are,² she said.

Early efforts led by Rita Windom and David¹s wife, Brenda, focused on shoes and dental care. More that 100 toothbrushes, 52 tubes of toothpaste and about 100 pairs of shoes sent to Iraq were followed by 650 pencils and 288 pieces of chalk badly needed by recently established schools. An ongoing collection in county offices has focused on toys, which will be collected through next week.

At the Venture Inn, Linda Gerard is collecting Beanie Babies and other small stuffed toys to send to Iraqi children.

³A lot of people have them, like under their beds, in sacks or stored away in the basement,² Gerard said.

Gerard has already sent two boxes of the toys to Iraq and plans to send more as they are collected.

The next drive will be aimed at collecting additional school supplies, including notebooks, metric rulers and more pencils, Rita Windom said.

³You can¹t believe the look of joy when these kids get shoes,² David Windom said in a recent email.

He recounted personally fitting more than 50 Iraqi children for shoes and handing out toothbrushes and toothpaste during a mission with doctors and medics in slums around Baghdad.

³One little girl patiently fitted her squirming little sisters for shoes, working with a makeshift sign language to signal for smaller or larger shoes,² he said. ³Once finished fitting her sisters, she disappeared only to return with her friends where she repeated the sizing process. Once finished, she stood silently, sweetly waiting her turn for shoes.

³With melting hearts, we dug through the boxes looking for the very best pair of shoes for this little Iraqi angel. After posing for pictures, she led her sisters and friends back to their parents leaving behind her new American friends.²