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Beanie Babies to benefit firefighters

August 09, 1998

Beanie RaffleBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

photo: MIKE CRUPI / staff photographer [enlarge]

FAYETTEVILE, Pa. - If acorns can produce giant oak trees, then perhaps Beanie Babies can turn into a $500,000 school for firefighters.

That's the thinking behind an unusual fund drive being kicked off today by the Franklin County Fire Chiefs Association. The chiefs believe the county's 18 fire departments can raise $100,000 toward construction of a training center for volunteers by raffling off 180 donated Beanie Babies.

Beanie Babies are a growing family of cuddly, Chinese-made stuffed animals created by Illinois entrepreneur Ty Warner. They scurried onto the American scene about five years ago and created a new national hysteria, surpassing the Cabbage Patch Doll craze of the late 1980s.

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The craving for Beanie Babies has become so weird that while they sell new in the stores for $5.75, they can bring hundreds of dollars on a secondary market. Those no longer in production, which collectors call "retired," sell for thousands of dollars.

"I saw one advertised on TV today for $450," said Kenneth North, training chairman for the chiefs association.

Jo Ann Kissinger, owner of the Yellow Shed Gift Shoppe at 5300 Lincoln Way East in Chambersburg, is a Beanie Baby expert. She said buyers line up in front of her store in pre-dawn darkness on days when a new batch comes in. Warner introduced the last new crop with 14 new Beanie Babies in May. She expects one more in October and another before the end of the year.

She said she doesn't know why some people are so obsessed with the little stuffed animals. She said it's gone beyond a fad. People buy them as investments for the children and grandchildren, she said.

Her buyers run from children with a $1 weekly allowance to everyday collectors to scalpers who try to turn them into big bucks. "They started out as nice cheap toys for children," Kissinger said.

It was Kissinger's idea to use Beanie Babies for the fund-raiser.

"I wanted to give something back to the community and I was looking for a cause when I saw a story in the paper about the training center," she said. She decided it was the best way to help the most people, she said.

Kissinger is donating the 180 Beanie Babies for the raffle and organized a committee to run it made up of firefighters, citizens and even a Beanie Baby collector for technical advice.

"Maybe our goal is too high, but I don't think so. Beanie Babies have treated me very well in my business in the last two years. People are obsessed with them. Everyone will want to take a chance on the raffle," she said.

The Beanie Babies will be raffled off in 20 sets, assembled according to a loose theme by Kissinger. Each set constitutes a prize in the drawing, she said.

The first batch of 10,000 tickets are ready, North said. They will sell for $1 each or six for $5.

The drawing will be held at the site of the new center near the Franklin County Area Vocational Technical School. The school donated the five-acre building site to the association, North said.

North said he sent a letter to Ty Warner asking him to come to Franklin County on the day of the drawing to pull out the winning tickets. "We thought it would be nice to have him here, but we haven't heard from him yet," he said.

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