Missouri father/son duo harnesses the Dark Side for good

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Who knew the Imperial Army had a heart?

Last week, a group of 12-inch-tall "Star Wars" Stormtrooper action figures delivered toys donated by Valhalla's Gate, a local store specializing in fantasy and sci-fi games and collectibles, to University of Missouri's Children's Hospital and proceeded to wrap them for unsuspecting young patients, the Columbia Daily Tribune (http://bit.ly/1miAwNW ) reports.

These Stormtroopers are the same set whose Christmas-tree building was a social media sensation about two weeks ago. Phil Shearrer, along with his son, Kyle, 18, meticulously posed their 1/6-scale Stormtrooper action figures as if they were decorating for the holidays and shot photos of the galactic soldiers' progress with their iPhones.

Kyle then shared the photos on his Facebook page and then shared the post on news and social media site Reddit. Before they knew it they had a phenomenon on their hands.

The father and son duo's photos racked up 3 million hits and hundreds of thousands of shares by "Star Wars" fans around the world, including some living in such far-flung locales as Chile, Germany, Portugal and England.

Phil Shearrer, an organizational development consultant for the hospital, recognized an opportunity.

"One of the challenges we had is that you have your 15 seconds of fame, but can you do anything worthwhile with it?" Shearrer said.

So he approached Mitch Wasden, chief executive officer and chief operating officer for MU Health Care, about the possibility of using his social-media famous action figure team for a special project for MU Children's Hospital patients. Wasden immediately OKed the idea, even though he noted that he "had never wielded a light-saber himself."

Shearrer worked with Women's and Children's Child Life Coordinator Merideth Lehman to plan the event, which came together in about a week.

The hospital has Santa visits for the patients every year, but Stormtroopers were a new adventure.

"It's really fun to get to do something special," Lehman said.

It took the Shearrers four hours to pose the Stormtroopers wrapping the roughly $700 worth of donated toys, with MU Public Relations Media Producer Justin Kelley shooting their progress. After the Shearrers were done and the Stormtroopers were packed up, the pediatric patients invited to the playroom for a Christmas party.

Gifts were given to all 22 patients at the hospital that day. Patients who were able to visit the playroom on the children's floor of the hospital got to meet TJ, the hospital's mascot, who handed out the presents. TJ and friends went around after the party to deliver gifts to the patients who were unable to attend the party.

Aurora Carrasco, 6, was one of the patients to whom TJ paid a visit. It was Aurora's first time meeting the anthropomorphic tiger, and she thought "he was funny."

Her gift was a small tub of of pink and yellow bouncing putty. She and her parents, Christopher and Holly Carrasco, of Richland, rolled it into balls and bounced it off the walls and floor of her hospital room.

Other gifts received included snowman Lego sets, action figures, stuffed animals and playing cards. "Awesome" was a common refrain by patients receiving gifts. Gifts left over from the Stormtroopers' project will be given to future patients.

As for Shearrer, this isn't the last time he will be shooting photos of his Stormtroopers in action. He said he already has taken some more at home in the kitchen with cookies and other props, and he and his son have had a special request for a Hanukkah-themed shoot.

Shearrer said he hopes he can use his army of 12-inch-tall men for more good.

"Any way" we can "use it for charity, we would love to do that," he said. "There's 'Star Wars' fans everywhere."

And those "Star Wars" fans can get a peek at the Stormtroopers wrapping presents on the hospital's Facebook page.





Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Columbia Daily Tribune.

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