BEVERLY — Over the last month, a conference room inside Beverly Hospital has steadily been transformed into a storage facility for thousands of toy cars.
Yesterday afternoon, as many as 20 employees of Beverly Hospital and its satellite hospital in Danvers were painting little hearts and the letter "J" on the roughly 3,200 donated Matchbox, Hot Wheels and other metal cars.
The "J" stands for Sgt. Jordan Shay of Amesbury, who was killed in action in 2009 while serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq. A 2005 graduate of Amesbury High School, Shay was a specialist in the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, based in Fort Lewis, Wash. He was killed Sept. 2, 2009, when the armored truck he was riding in overturned. Another soldier, Army Sgt. Todd Selge, 25, of Burnsville, Minn., was also killed in the accident.
Shay's mother, Holly, of Newburyport, said one of her son's last requests was that she send him small toy cars to hand out to children in Iraq.
Holly Shay said her son explained that even a small gesture like a toy car or a pack of chewing gum went a long way toward bridging the gap between soldiers and civilians, especially young children.
Jordan Shay was killed before he received the first batch of cars from his mother.
A few months after her son's death, Holly Shay's co-workers at Hospice of the North Shore organized a toy-car drive called Little Wheels of Tribute. They set up boxes in several Danversbank locations and collected thousands of cars in late 2009.
"I just thought it was the best thing ever," Holly Shay said.
Now, a second mass shipment containing thousands of toy cars is being prepared to be sent to the front lines in memory of Jordan Shay.
Once Beverly Hospital employees paint the cars, they will be packed into at least 100 military-marked boxes provided by Operation Troop Support of Danvers, which will ship them to Iraq and Afghanistan, said Gerald Mackillop, community relations director at Beverly Hospital.