The new duck dynasty
A family sells toy ducks in Alaska to provide real ducks around the world.
Camille Varner was just 6 when she began decorating Alaska-themed rubber ducks, wrapping the diminutive fowl in cuddly parkas and selling them in her family’s Juneau, Alaska, soap shop. That was six years ago, and today the pre-teen is amazed at the impact this project has had on children in developing countries.
Her family uses profits from the rubber ducks to purchase live ducks through the World Vision Gift Catalog, to be given to families in need across the globe.
“I never would have imagined it would get this big,” Camille says. “I can see I’m actually helping people.”
Three generations of Camille’s family run Glacier Smoothie soap shop in the heart of Juneau’s thriving tourist district. Each summer, thousands of cruise ship passengers flock to the shop, looking for something “Alaskan.” Among the store’s varieties of glacier silt-based soaps sit the yellow and orange bath toy ducks for $4.25 each.
The rubber duck story began in 2009 as a way to teach generosity to Camille, the youngest grandchild. Soon the lesson turned into an annual tradition involving the whole family.
“We wanted her to know that life isn't all about making money,” Camille’s grandmother, Pat Stringer, says. “We just thought ducks fit with soap. God has just blessed it and blessed it.”
Since 2010, the family has sold $3,275 worth of rubber ducks, enabling World Vision to give 500 live ducks to families in developing countries.
Ducks provide families in rural communities with protein-rich eggs. Extra eggs or hatchlings can be sold to neighbors for income to pay for essentials like medicine or a child’s education. In some cases, families give their chicks to neighbors, ensuring that even more children have access to good nutrition.
Jimmie Stringer, Camille’s grandfather and longtime pastor of Juneau’s First Baptist Church, not only helps at the store, but acts as spiritual adviser to the family and mentor to young seasonal employees. He says life can easily become too focused on managing a business. He can’t help but see the eternal value of selling rubber ducks to give real ducks.
“We would be bored with life if it was about money and soap,” says Jimmie. “It’s not—it’s about people. I love being part of something bigger than myself. I’ve got heaven in my view.”