KJ got ball rolling on toys for kids of evacuees.
BY CHRISTINE LAUE - Omaha World Herald Writer
Published Monday, November 28, 2005
When 5-year-old K.J. Louis saw on television the homes crushed from Hurricane Katrina’s wind and floodwaters, concern welled in his eyes and he gasped. "Mommy," he asked, "did the children lose their toys?" Sherri Louis turned off the television. She wanted to protect her son from the reality of the disaster. But she chose to use it in what she calls a "teachable moment." "I'm sure they did," she told him. Almost immediately, K.J. grabbed a plastic grocery bag and started placing some of his toys in it: Legos, cars with missing wheels. "Let's take these to the children," he said. "We can give these to the children." And that's what the Louis family and hundreds of others in the Omaha metro area did. This week, a truck with more than 2,000 pounds of donated new toys will leave Omaha for Houston, where thousands of Gulf Coast evacuees remain. Louis, a stay-at-home mother of three in west Omaha, wanted to demonstrate to the children what she and her husband, Ken, were trying to teach: that Jesus wants them to help others. With some Internet research, she found a Houston church assisting hurricane victims. She rounded up shopping carts from Toys R Us and came up with a name for the project: K.J.'s Karts for Katrina's Kids. She handed out fliers in her neighborhood and at her son's preschool. Shopping carts at her hair salon, doctor's office and neighborhood Hy-Vee Supermarket soon filled with toys. "Within three days, Hy-Vee called me and said they had four carts filled," she said. On a recent Sunday, the Toys R Us store near Oak View Mall stayed open two extra hours so people could buy toys to donate. Other businesses donated food and services to the event as well. "Within two hours, we collected an additional $2,300 worth of new toys," Louis said. "We had about 30 or 40 carts filled with new toys." Sacred Heart Catholic Church gave 800 new toys. Two Interstate Batteries stores donated batteries for the toys. "It was getting bigger and bigger," Louis said. Barbie dolls, trucks, games, books, backpacks, bikes. The Omaha direct mail company GP Direct stored the toys, and Werner Enterprises, an Omaha-based trucking company, is donating shipping. The truck should leave Thursday and arrive in Houston Saturday. "It's been inspiring to me to see this through my child's eyes," Louis said. She hopes someone will donate frequent flier miles for her husband and K.J. to travel to Houston. She wants her son to see firsthand the impact of his idea. Louis normally tries to limit TV viewing. But she doesn't think parents should always shelter their children. Because, she said, look what their ideas can do.
Gift will fly boy along with toys
KJ got his wings!
BY CHRISTINE LAUE - Omaha World Herald Writer
Published Thursday, December 1, 2005
The 5-year-old Omaha boy who sparked a citywide toy drive for Hurricane Katrina victims will get to fly to Houston to see the toys handed out to children displaced by the storm. "When the little guy said 'what about their toys?' and he started to give his toys, I figured if he's going to give his toys up, I can give up my frequent flyer miles," said John Elftmann, a retired senior vice president of First Data Corp. Elftmann, of Blair, is donating his remaining 35,000 frequent flyer miles on United Airlines to K.J. Louis. As a business executive, Elftmann acquired thousands of the reward miles by flying to London, Hong Kong and Australia. He and his wife, Marty, have been to the Antarctic and the Amazon, camped for 12 weeks in a pop-up camper in Alaska and camped in Peru. "We've pretty much been every place," said Elftmann, also a retired Air Force pilot. So a planned trip to visit a friend in Washington, D.C., seemed less important than helping the boy. After seeing hurricane damage on TV, K.J. asked his mom, Sherri Louis, if the children lost their toys. She told him the truth because she wanted to use it as what she called a "teachable moment." K.J. responded by grabbing a bag and putting his own toys in it. Sherri then started organizing a weeks-long toy drive that eventually gathered 2,000 pounds of donated new toys. GP Direct, which is donating shipping with Werner Enterprises, will buy a plane ticket for K.J.'s father, Ken Louis. The toys leave Omaha on Friday morning and should arrive in Houston on Monday. K.J. and his dad will travel the following weekend to see the toys handed out.