By Jason F. Wright
My children have always enjoyed playing the toy crane machines that guard the entrances of grocery stores, malls, restaurants and arcades. Kason Wright, my 9-year-old son, has such a high success rate that the folks who service these machines coordinate their restocking schedule with his allowance day.
We often joke that if dropping out of elementary school and turning pro were an option, he'd hold a press conference, hire an agent and line up sponsorship deals.
My wife reminds me the kids come by their toy crane prowess honestly. I've been playing the toy crane since the toys were slathered in lead paint and the cost was just a nickel. Even now as an old-timer on the toy-crane circuit I'll often stop to play when I'm on my own. "Never let the skills go rusty," I tell myself.
From left, Jadi, Koleson and Kason Wright are collecting stuffed animals to send to victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes. Courtesy photo by Jason F. Wright
Then, before we'd even left the shopping center parking lot, Kason asked the kind of question parents live for. "Dad, what if we sent all our toy crane prizes to the kids in Oklahoma who lost their stuffed animals in the tornado?"
I stopped the car and looked over my shoulder. "Really?"
"Well, we've got lots and some of those kids probably lost all of their stuffed animals."
It was yet another reminder that my children's goodness surpasses mine in almost every imaginable way.
By the time we pulled in to the driveway, Kason and Koleson had decided that their friends might also want to send their own toy crane prizes and other stuffed animals. They dubbed it The Toy Crane Project and made plans for a website to invite others to join their mission.
Later that night my wife and two daughters returned home and I listened as the boys laid out their idea. There's nothing quite like hearing your 6-year-old son describe with pure giddiness his plans to build a website with pictures, video and "infostructions."
Over the next few days, the boys began telling people about their project and started sorting through their own stash of stuffed animals. Meanwhile, longtime family friend Eric Farnsworth helped with graphics, Aaron Lee compiled a highlight reel for YouTube and Stephen Funk donated both expertise and Web space for the site.
Before details had even been announced, good pals Stuart Freakley and his young daughter, Anna, were on our porch donating the very first collection of stuffed animals. Kason and Koleson got their older sisters excited about the project, too, and organized piles of stuffed critters began appearing on the floor.
Thanks to our good friends at the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce, we soon had a drop-off location for local donations and a mailing address for others who might wish to help from a distance. Anyone who knows her -- or the spirit of the chamber -- wasn't surprised that Jenna French, executive director, couldn't say "Yes!" fast enough.
Just like that, in less than a week, the desire to do good went from a dream hatched in the backseat of our car to plush reality.
Hours before the website and video went live, I asked Kason what he hoped the Toy Crane Project would accomplish. "I want to help make the kids in Oklahoma happy and feel loved and cared for."
"I think you just might do that," I answered.
If you'd like to join the project, please send your new or very gently used toy crane prizes or other stuffed animals to the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce, Attention Toy Crane Project, 103 S. Main Street, Woodstock, VA 22664. Please include your name and return address.
Donations will be sorted and delivered to Oklahoma in stages throughout the summer. If volume surpasses the need, donations will be stored until opportunity arises in other areas. If we've learned anything this year, it's that we do not control the when and where of disaster, we only control the response.
So, whether you're a fan of toy cranes or not, whether you're a child or an adult, whether you live in Virginia, Utah or points in between, you are invited to join the childlike dream of two boys with a simple plan. With your help, we can "make the kids in Oklahoma happy and feel loved and cared for."
For more information, visit www.toycraneproject.com
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The 13th Day of Christmas." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jasonfwright.com.