Autumn McSweyn called it “a random moment,” a “wild-hair” idea typical of teenagers.
But the desire to help kids in war-torn Afghanistan stuck and turned “into a huge summer thing,” said the 18-year-old Shepherd resident.
Two weeks ago, McSweyn boxed up 115 stuffed teddy bears that she had spent the summer collecting and shipped them to an American soldier in Afghanistan. There, soldiers will give the bears to children encountered while on patrols or other duties.
McSweyn reasoned that Afghan children would enjoy a nice teddy bear.
“I think they would like that,” she said.
“What kid doesn’t need something to hang on to? Some kids do not have that,” McSweyn said.
“Everybody needs something. A lot of kids don’t have a lot of things.”
McSweyn got the idea from an article that her mother, Peggy McSweyn, had shown her about Stephen Boggs, a field engineer with the Combat Aviation Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division. Boggs gives children stuffed animals in a project called “Operation Teddy Bear.”
While at a garage sale, McSweyn found four nice teddy bears and told her mother, “We’ve got to do this.”
She was serious. The teenager e-mailed Boggs about her idea.
“He really liked it,” she said.
McSweyn and her mother, who weren’t exactly garage sale junkies, found themselves hitting sales all over the region. The hunt for teddy bears took the McSweyns to sales in Ryegate, Park City and Columbus, as well as to the local Rescue Mission.
“We had a ball,” she said.
Relatives and friends got on board, too.
McSweyn spent about $60 buying bears and set a $2-a-bear limit.
When people learned why McSweyn wanted teddy bears, they often gave her a deal, she said. At one garage sale, McSweyn scored seven or eight Care Bears for only $5.
The quest for bears also was an eye-opener.
Seeing the toys at sales made them more aware of all the stuff that people accumulate, said Peggy McSweyn. They were surprised by all the beautiful new or nearly new toys.
“They were like children never played with them,” she said.
The McSweyns collected new or gently used bears of all kinds.
McSweyn paid for the $142 shipping costs with help from a family friend. She also sent a box packed with school supplies, such as notebooks, folders, pencils and sharpeners.
A senior at Shepherd High, McSweyn lives on the family farm and is active in 4-H. She is about to sell calves she has raised to help with her college fund.
The teddy bear project, McSweyn learned afterward, will help her in applying for a 4-H scholarship.
McSweyn wants to attend the University of Montana. She is interested in photography and in working with children and people.
“I don’t think I could sit at a desk,” she said.
McSweyn kept one of the toys, a little brown teddy bear that she named, “Charley,” as a mascot.
“He’s so cute,” she said.
Charley, she said, keeps her “in touch with my inner child.”