Operation Community Hearts: Drive beginning for deployed soldiers, Fort Drum families

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WATERTOWN — In the communities around Fort Drum, an effort is underway to provide support for military children and families, along with their loved ones overseas.

Teddy bears will be gathered for children left at home, while supplies, gifts and written letters will be collected and shipped to soldiers overseas.

Operation Community Hearts is the revamping of an effort from years ago that began with a then preteen Gavin E. Moran, who started a teddy bear drive at his family’s duty station of Fort Hood, Texas, as a bar mitzvah service project. This time, the efforts are headed by his parents Crystal D. and Allen G. Moran, with help from his brother Hunter A. Moran, local businesses, and Gavin himself from states away.

“Because it touched his life so much, he wanted to do something for military kids,” Mrs. Moran said of the origins of the drive Gavin began. “His father was deployed a lot, at least four times on main deployments to Afghanistan or Iraq, and then multiple tours that were just like regular training missions. My son received a teddy bear that he named Teddy when he was really little, given to him by his father, and it became his comfort when his dad was gone. He tapped into that, issued this project, and asked me for help.”

Mrs. Moran, who now works in distribution at the Times, recalls not knowing what to do the first time around. But now she knows how to get the project rolling. In Fort Hood, the family contacted news outlets to get the word out and found places to collect. Organizations and businesses allowed the family to place collection boxes at their sites. They gathered roughly 500 bears when the family was at Fort Hood.

As distribution got underway, Gavin did lots of talking and reaching out to people, Mrs. Moran said. When his father returned to the U.S., the family relocated to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where the second phase of the drive began. With some bears left over from the Fort Hood collection, they wanted to figure out a way to distribute them out to the community again, so Mrs. Moran and Gavin shared their idea with the community.

“We had the same reception, a lot of businesses wanted to get on board,” Mrs. Moran said. “By the time this whole thing was done, he had collected a thousand bears, it was pretty big. At that point, it reached a national level where a lot of people got information about what was going on.”

Gavin is now 25 and living in a different state than his family, but he still wants to be part of the drive.

This revamped drive will bring back his original teddy bear focus and add care packages for deployed soldiers and support for families. The project is in its early stages. The goal now is to spread the word and gather volunteers and donations.

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