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Dolls, teddy bears shipped to Kosovo

NCR Staff

On Aug. 22, the pastor of a tiny, rural Virginia parish celebrated Mass in Kosovo. At other points in the area thousands of Kosovo children played with new soccer balls, Barbie dolls, teddy bears, baseballs and other toys -- 40,000 in all -- that his parish had helped provide and ship. As Fr. Joe Metzger of St. Theresa Parish in Farmville, Va., tells it, the idea came about during Holy Week when he “saw TV reports of Kosovo refugee children sitting in the dirt with nothing to do.” He was “home for Easter dinner with my family, kicking a ball around with my nephews and nieces.”

He asked St. Theresa’s 300 parish families if they’d support a toy drive. Soon local churches, synagogues, Boy Scout troops, civic associations and a couple of toy companies were involved. “Two hundred beautiful wooden toys came from a toy company in Vermont,” said Metzger. “A Chicago toy company sent 4,000 yo-yos.”

It turned out the hardest part was getting the toys to Kosovo -- getting help from politicians or relief services -- with the exception of Catholic Relief Services. “You wouldn’t believe the lies, the evasions,” Metzger said.

But Metzger, a former Congressional political operative in the 1980s who was ordained in 1991 (he’s been St. Theresa’s pastor since 1995), understands persistence. Catholic Relief Services helped with shipping. A U.S. charity took care of U.S. road transportation. In mid-August the toys were shipped out of Norfolk, Va., to Greece, then trucked to Kosovo.

Metzger flew to Skopje, Macedonia, Aug. 20 with Louis Steve, a parishioner. Traveling with them were Matt Lakin and Kasey Sutton, sophomores at Hampden-Sydney College where Metzger earned his degree, and Scott Sartini of a Roanoke, Va., parish that Metzger previously served.

The clincher, of course, is in what toys were not shipped. No war-themed or war toys made the trip.

National Catholic Reporter, August 27, 1999