"Certainly nobody needs a yo-yo to get through war, but if they want it, I think they should have it."
So says Lorraine Leacock. And after spending some time in Lorraine's company, I'm inclined to believe her.
If our soldiers in Iraq want yo-yos, then yo-yos they shall have. And candy. And puzzle books. And greaseless sunblock. And somehow, Lorraine will get it for them.
How best to describe Lorraine? Professional ballroom dancer, specializing in cha-cha, rumba, samba, pasodoble and jive. Ballroom instructor. Ice dancing choreographer. Wedding planner. Wedding gown designer. Ballroom gown designer.
Authorized dealer in spray-on tanning products.
Lorraine has her fingers in a lot of pies. It's a good thing she has energetic fingers.
The Herndon resident heard this year that while the Pentagon was supplying our soldiers in Iraq with the necessities, our fighting men and women were pining for the niceties, things to make their stay in a hostile environment a little less hostile.
So in characteristic Energizer Bunny fashion, she leapt into action. Sunblock was one thing the troops could never have too much of, toiling as they did under the punishing Iraqi sun. And Lorraine knows from tans.
"I'm like the queen of fake tan," she says, the result of her work with brides and ballroom dancers, who she says like to add a little color to their skin.
But it couldn't be just any sunblock. "The sand over there is like a powder everywhere. If you have anything greasy on you, you're like a dusted doughnut by the end of the day."
So Lorraine called Jan Tana, a Texas businesswoman who caters to the tanning needs of professional bodybuilders.
"She couldn't tell me yes fast enough," says Lorraine. "She's just fabulous."
Jan Tana sent Lorraine 300 bottles of greaseless sunscreen. How did it get to Iraq? Lorraine wasn't sure.
"I stuck it in the general's SUV and made him take it to the Army."
That would be her husband, Brig. Gen. Edward A. Leacock, the Maryland National Guard's assistant adjutant general for Army.
If there is anyone who less fits the stereotype of a general's wife than Lorraine, I haven't met her. "I'm totally the fashion and dance and glamour junkie, and he's totally the opposite," she admits.
Lorraine and Ed met on a blind date and married 15 years ago. "The Brooklyn girl met the Army guy," she says. "It could have been a movie."
Buoyed by her sunscreen success, Lorraine started arranging to collect more items. She called candy companies and asked for donations. Jan Tana had contacts in the protein bar industry. Would that help? Yes, said Lorraine. Lorraine knows someone who knows someone who works for a phone company. Maybe they could get some phone cards. Another friend is married to an eye doctor. He said he'd try to get eye drops. Her cousin used to work at a New York publisher. Maybe he could swing some books.
"It's just things to try to make them more comfortable," says Lorraine.
When Lorraine isn't trying to hustle up supplies, she runs Finishing Touches, a wedding planning/gown-making business. Her large basement is full of fabric and thread, a sewing machine, a serger, some 300 costumes. Dangling from a hanger is a skimpy turquoise Latin dance outfit glittering with 500 Swarovski crystals that Lorraine glued on by hand.
There's a framed photo of Lorraine in a blue sparkly dress striking a pose with her partner.
"This was right before Carlos and I won the pro-am Latin title," she says.
That's her other life. But right now, she puts out feelers. The Family Readiness Center at her husband's office calls with lists of items soldiers say they want: beef jerky, trail mix, baby wipes.
A request just came in for new or gently used stuffed animals to hand to the children of soldiers during deployment ceremonies before the troops ship out to Iraq.
"We need hundreds," says Lorraine. "Everybody's got those."
If you can help Lorraine, send her an e-mail at GiftsForHeroes@aol.com.
Camp Moss Hollow
"I am an 85-year-old, fixed income grandmother who wants to help," wrote Mrs. Morton with a note that accompanied her $100 check for Send a Kid to Camp. That's our annual drive to support a summer camp for at-risk children from the Washington area.
"Might we get every parent or grandparent in the metro area to contribute $5 (or more) per child or grandchild?" wrote Joyce Grand with her $35 check -- $5 per grandchild, she said, plus two "in the pot."
A wonderful idea. Our goal by July 27 is $650,000. So far we've raised $133,130.99. Here's how you can help:
Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to Family and Child Services, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.
To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly. Click on the icon that says, "Make a Donation."
To donate by MasterCard or Visa by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on our taped message.
Or treat yourself to apple pie with Thomas Sweet vanilla ice cream at any area McCormick & Schmick's Seafood or cheesecake with raspberry puree at any M&S Grill. Proceeds benefit Send a Kid to Camp. Don't let the large poster featuring my leering face put you off your food.