Debbie Cornall takes comfort in the knowledge that she’s helped improve the lives of children in war-torn Iraq. Through her Child to Child program, Auburn residents have donated more than 100 boxes of clothing, shoes and school supplies to Iraqis in need.
Debbie, who belongs to Sacred Heart Parish in Auburn, began collecting the clothing and supplies after receiving a letter from her son, Joseph, who was stationed in Iraq. Joseph, a member of the New York National Guard, was deployed to Iraq in February 2004. In a letter he sent his mother in July, Joseph asked her to consider collecting materials to send to Iraqi children.
Debbie began advertising the project, which she dubbed Child to Child, shortly after receiving Joseph’s letter. By August she sent the first box of clothing to Iraq. She soon realized many Iraqi parents needed clothing just as much as their children did, so she began collecting adult clothing as well. When the boxes arrived in Iraq, her son’s unit brought them to a community center and distributed the clothes to local residents.
“I started with children’s clothes and ended up taking anything anyone wanted to give me,” Debbie said.
Debbie was amazed by the Auburn community’s generosity, noting that at one point piles of donated clothing stretched toward the ceilings of her kitchen and porch. With the community’s support, she raised $3,000 to cover the cost of shipping 100 boxes to Iraq.
“I said, ‘Lord, if this is meant to be then somehow the money will appear, and I’ll be able to do it,’ and somehow it has happened,” Debbie recalled. “It was a huge success. I had such a huge amount of clothing and things donated.”
Debbie thinks the project was so successful because it gave people something concrete they could do to help the military’s efforts in Iraq. People could actively do something to help Iraqi citizens instead of just watching images of conflict on the nightly news.
“It was like people were just waiting for something to do,” Debbie said. “I think (the Iraqi) people really need our help in other ways besides trying to liberate their country.”
Throwing herself into the Child to Child project helped Debbie take her mind off Joseph and kept her from worrying about all the potentially dangerous situations he was in, she added.
“I just jumped into it, and really all through this summer and up until now its been great for me. It kept me busy,” Debbie said.
Joseph came home on New Year’s Day, a day Debbie described as “the best New Year’s I’ve ever had.” Although Joseph and the rest of his unit are now back in New York, Debbie continues to send clothing to American soldiers in Iraq. After learning that a unit from Wisconsin had taken the place of Joseph’s unit, Debbie began sending clothing to members of the Wisconsin unit for distribution to Iraqis. She also sends letters to members of the unit who don’t have a lot of family or wouldn’t otherwise get a lot of mail, she said.
Debbie said she may send some of the donated adult clothing to the migrant farm worker camp in King Ferry, where she knows it will be put to good use. She is no longer actively soliciting clothing donations, but said if someone approaches her with a donation she will accept it. Debbie said she is putting aside some of her own money to cover future shipping costs, but would welcome monetary donations to help cover these costs. It costs at least $25 just to send one box to an Army Post Office within New York state, and the military sends the box on to Iraq from there, she said.
Before leaving Iraq, Joseph’s unit sent Debbie a DVD showing Iraqis receiving some of the clothing she had collected. Seeing the smiles on the Iraqi children’s faces as they looked at their new clothes made Debbie feel wonderful, especially since the children probably don’t often have occasion to smile, she said.
“The kids looked like they had been given above and beyond anything they could ever imagine. It’s unbelievable,” Debbie said. “The feeling that you get (from helping) … it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. There’s nothing like it in the whole world.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Monetary donations to be used to help defray the project’s shipping costs should be sent to Debbie Cornall at 7105 Owasco Road, Auburn, NY 13021.