August 19, 2011
Story by: Chris "Darth" Spice
Photos by: Augie Webster


While attending the Cyphan Convention a few weeks ago, I had the chance to learn about Bugs Pals. The Midwest Garrison was collecting toys for the fifth toy drive at Hope Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn, IL. While this troop wouldn't have the excitement and fun of a convention, upon walking in the door it was painfully evident this wasn't a normal "mercy mission." Even though I found myself in Sandtrooper armor two days last weekend, it was very easy to see what I would be doing with my day off. It would be an honor to join thirteen other costumers to bring a little joy and happiness to some kids that greatly needed it. To give a little background story, I borrowed this excerpt from the group planning thread to give you a better idea of what we were doing in the field.

"At the Joliet library this year some members had a chance to meet Dan Siemek who is the founder of Bugs Pals. It all started with a page on Facebook that he set up in the memory of his daughter Natalie. Bugs Pals is how he describes the people who take time to remember and help out with the toy drives. Natalie was born 11/15/2005 with a rare heart defect. Hypo Plastic Right Heart Syndrome was her diagnosis. With the love of her family and the amazing doctors and nurses at Hope, Natalie's life of 15 months was a gift to all who met her. Bug was Natalie's nick-name because she was the smallest of their 3 children.

The blue heart represents the term "Blue Baby" that doctors use for children with heart defects. While in the hospital Natalie received gifts that had been donated to the hospital for ill children. In honor of Natalie, The Siemek family has had 4 toy drives to benefit Hope's children. The last toy drive was dropped off March 5th with a total of 236 beautiful new gifts. These are handed out to the admitted children by the Child Life Development Staff. These toys help children that are there for long periods of time or during special events like birthdays."

Needless to say the toy drives conducted by the Midwest Garrison at Cyphan and Chicago Comic-Con were very successful.  There were over 350 new toys gathered, as I watched two large carts fill up that would be distributed throughout the floors. Since we had such a good turnout, we split into two groups to make sure we got things done in the limited two-hour window we would be in costume. There's no doubt we might have slipped some of the kids too much, but without a doubt it felt very good to see them light up when Lord Vader and company strolled through the doors. It was very fulfilling and this is the work the 501st Legion does that simply cannot get enough attention.  Afterwards the group gathered for photos in the garden outside the hospital where the Siemek family has a bench in memorial of their daughter Natalie.  It was indeed a proud moment for everyone involved, and of all my gear I think I might have been most thankful for my green lenses.  As they hid the tears that welled up at times on my natural blue eyes. Star Wars toys can be the ultimate distraction, as many of us know how special that galaxy far, far away can take us away.  I can only hope and pray the children we visited today will get better, as I can be fairly certain we planted a few collecting seeds along the path we walked along today. Long live the Empire and until next time Troopers, United We Find!

To see the photo gallery from the visit click here!