Jul. 21—Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, Brad Ulick started making regular trips to Estonia to train clergy leaders.
Soon, Ulick will return to the country that borders Russia. He isn't going to train clergy members, though. He's flying out to deliver toys to Ukrainian refugees.
If Ulick had to leave today, he would be delivering slightly more than half a shipping container of toys. But, a delay in shipping means his organization, the Marine Corps League Department of Indiana, has extra time to fill the container.
Kelly Gillihan, commandant for the Indiana branch, said the container and cost of shipping has already been covered by Elkhart company Grand Designs. Now, the Marine Corps League is asking Hoosiers for donations that would help fill the rest of the container.
Gillihan said the initiative kicked off after members of the organization spoke to humanitarians trying to help Ukrainian refugees.
"The humanitarian effort is phenomenal. We're sending food and clothes. But we're not bringing toys," Gillihan said. Often, he explained, the humanitarians run out of space to include toys while delivering necessities.
The Marine Corps League already runs Toys for Tots, though, and decided to extend its toy drive to Ukrainian refugees.
"We do it at Christmastime," Gillihan said, "We can do it in the middle of the summer for kids who have been displaced."
So far, approximately $35,000 has been put toward the toy drive. Gillihan estimates the Marine Corps League will need an additional $20,000 to fill the container. At the end of the month, a final order of toys will be ordered from a wholesaler.
After the 40-foot shipping container gets through customs, Ulick will work with clergy from Oleviste Kirik (St. Olaf's Church) in Tallinn, Estonia's capital. Chris Grendys, a fellow member of the Marine Corps League, will join him on the trip.
If there are still toys leftover after serving refugees in Estonia, Ulick said he would bring the surplus to Latvia, a country on Estonia's southern border where Ulick has friends.
"We're letting kids be kids," Ulick said. "We're giving them the simple joy of play. They've already had so much taken away from them."
There are two requirements for the toys, Gillihan said. They can't reference war and they need to have a CE mark, which shows the toy is compliant with European Union safety standards.
Organizers have already started sorting toys into boxes that indicate the age and gender of children the toys could go to.
Donations can be made by visiting https://mcldeptofindiana.org/ and clicking on the "Donate Now" button. Contributions must be made by the end of July.
James Bennett III can be reached at 765-454-8580 or email@example.com.