LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Each box of teddy bears Annie Fassnacht mails is a piece of home to the soldiers who receive them.

Sometimes the soldiers keep the stuffed animals, and other times, they give them to Afghanistan or Iraqi children to comfort them, she said, showing pictures of troops handing out the bears to grateful children who’ve known only war and destruction.

This year’s shipment of bears will have something new. Ball caps from the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA.

“I was talking to a couple of soldiers, and a couple of them brought up, … ‘We’re into the NFL teams and stuff; why don’t you start writing the NFL teams and asking them if they will send ball caps?’”

It was far fetched, Fassnacht said, confessing she never thought it would work. But if she’s learned anything from her 20-year-old daughter, Faith, it’s that the impossible is only impossible if you don’t try. Faith proved that when she started sending teddy bears to the troops when Faith was 8.

Faith continued the bear roundup until a couple years ago when she headed off to college. Then Annie stepped in to keep it going. 

So far fetched or not, Annie was bent on trying. She wrote to 10 professional teams asking for ball caps with the team logo to send to the troops.

That was in September just before she went into the hospital for surgery.

During her two weeks away from home, her neighbor kept asking what in the world did she order because boxes were arriving nearly daily.

“I didn’t order anything,” Annie assured her neighbor.

When she got home from the hospital, she discovered the boxes of caps.

“So out of 10 (teams), five of them had already answered me,” she said.

The Indianapolis Colts sent a box of caps, as did the Indiana Pacers, and the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals also sent teddy bears.

“I thought: This is going to work,” she said.

Annie is at a point in her life when she could step away from the bear collections for the troops and no one would fault her. But she chose, instead, to expand it. 

“I want those men and women to know they’re not forgotten,” she said when asked why she presses on despite the challenges of aging.

“Those men and women have children stateside and have no contact with them except for a letter or an occasional phone call,” she said. “They’re overseas fighting for us.”

So she’s back here fighting to bring a little of home to the soldiers overseas. It’s her Christmas gifts to them.

And when spring rolls around, she’ll collect jelly beans from local schools and ship those to the troops for Easter presents.

What started with an 8-year-old girl collecting stuffed animals for troops continues to brighten the holidays for strangers in uniform, most of whom will never know Annie or Faith or even Lafayette, Indiana. 

But they’ll know the folks here are thinking of them as they serve in a land far away from their homes. And that’s the point of it all, Annie explained.

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Merry & Bright: Teddy bears and ball caps part of Christmas for overseas soldiers

Annie Fassnacht continues her daughter’s project to brighten troops’ Christmas, and expands it by collecting ball caps.

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