Fairchild family pays it forward

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kali L. Gradishar
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
If you take the story of the nine-member Edwards family back to the beginning, you will find high school sweethearts taking separate paths in life. Fifteen years later, you will find them together again. They are married and raising seven children in a military environment - three a piece from first marriages and one together.

As many servicemembers are already aware, raising a family while serving in the military or having a spouse serving in the military can be a challenge. Add to that a deployed father and seven children ranging in ages from 2 to 12, and the level of chaos in a household is raised through the roof.

Times get tough and money gets tight, but if the Airman's unit is tight-knit there will always be help and there will always be hope. The Edwards know this, as they have had their share of tough times, working to provide the best they can for their children.

"We know what it's like to not know where the Christmas presents are coming from, but there are people who have really helped us out over the years with our big family," said Jodi Edwards, wife of Staff Sgt. Brad Edwards, 92nd Security Forces Squadron. "I wanted to find a way that I would be able to give back."

So, another chapter in the story began when Sergeant Edwards deployed to Iraq. After almost 20 years in the Air Force, this definitely wasn't his first deployment, but the first to Iraq where he was unprepared for what he saw - groups of children living without appropriate clothing and with few toys.

"Brad told me how his heart broke. Seeing those kids made him think of his own children. When he told me about that it made me want to do something to help," said Mrs. Edwards. "He told me about how he was right there with those kids who were in need."

Together with the children, Mrs. Edwards picked through closets, drawers, toy chests and boxes to find items they could donate to the Iraqi children. In their fourth house since arriving at Fairchild three-and-a-half years ago, the accumulation of material things was phenomenal, so finding things to donate was not much of a challenge.

Each child put something in the box to send to their father, who would in turn pass the items out to the Iraqi children.

"I'm very proud of my kids for doing this," said Mrs. Edwards with a fusion of joy and sorrow in her voice. Joy for being able to do something to help and sorrow for not being able to do more.

Each Edwards child surrendered items they had become attached to over the years, but for a good cause - "because they don't have any toys," said Isabella Edwards, 5.

Filled with mostly toys, school supplies and clothing, the Edwards family shipped out their possessions in hopes of providing essential items to children in need.

"There's so much poverty there and a lot of them are just kids who really need things," said Mrs. Edwards. "I can't imagine not being able to provide for my children like that, so we pretty much cleared everything out. I even got my parents and my sister on the bandwagon. I told them about the situation and explained to them that even though they don't have a lot, these kids don't have anything."

Being able to give away possessions at an early age and understanding the reasoning behind it is not always simple. But when it comes down to it, the Edwards children really stepped up to the plate to deliver a dose of happiness to children who are less fortunate.

Alex, 12, donated cars and monster trucks; Kelly, 12, put in Beanie Babies and blankets; Bethanie, 10, gave her soccer ball, baby dolls and Barbies; Joshua, 9, put in a big truck; Nicky, 8, donated his Hot Wheels and soldier figurines; Isabella, 5, gave her baby doll and stuffed animals; and Bradley, 2, put in his stuffed animals and baby blankets.

This provided an abundance of items for deployed Airmen to place in trunks in their humvees to pass out to children as they drive through the poverty-stricken villages in Iraq. The items are second hand, but still in excellent condition for the children who have little else to play with or wear.

"Brad said the kids really lit up when they got the stuffed animals," said Mrs. Edwards. "We just had so many to give away, and I'm sure there are a lot of families like us who have a lot they can give.

"I hope I can encourage other people to do something, and I would be willing to help anybody interest in sending stuff overseas," she said, "because even when Brad comes home, there will still be people there to pass out toys and clothing. I felt like the kids and I made a difference and I know other people could too."

There are those who find themselves in better lifestyle situations than others. What makes a person truly special is when they realize they can do something to make a difference in a less-fortunate person's life.

This is a chapter in the Edwards family story that will not end - the chapter of how they give so that others may have.

"Everybody finds their niche, and this just feels right," said Mrs. Edwards.