This holiday season, tens of thousands of soldiers in the U.S. military are spending Christmas away from their families, some for the first time.
The Blue Star Mothers Lake Erie New York Chapter 4 are working to make this season a little less difficult, primarily for soldiers deployed overseas. As they have done in the past, the mothers are working to get care packages together for the soldiers to receive in time for the holidays.
"We are having a collection right now for items," said Susan Rowley, president. "We are sending Christmas care packages on December 1."
In addition to collecting items, the Blue Star Mothers are also collecting names and addresses of local soldiers who will be deployed this holiday season.
"We can only get the addresses from family and friends that have them that would submit them to us," Rowley said. "I think we have 60 actual addresses right now. But, in those 60, we will send more than one box to an address, because there is more than one military person serving at that place. There is a huge need."
Each of the Blue Star Mothers have a child, grandchild, niece, nephew or some other family member serving in the U.S. military. Rowley, along with fellow Blue Star Mothers Kathleen Collver, Cindy Reidy and Michele King, each have children serving.
"Supporting our military is Democracy at its finest," Collver said. "None of us here will ever wear the uniform. But, we will always be military in our hearts because of our children."
Reidy is one of the newest additions to the Blue Star Mothers. Her son left only a week ago to join the Army. On the other hand, Rowley could be considered a veteran herself.
"My son has deployed four times in the last seven years," Rowley said. "He has spent time away from his family, our family. Christmases, birthdays, Thanksgiving. I know what it feels like to sit around a Thanksgiving table and not have him there."
Having their own children in the military helps them take care of what Rowley describes as "America's sons and daughters." Although each of the four mothers sends items to their own children, they also want to be sure other members of the military receive gifts.
"Last year, my son was in Afghanistan at Christmas," Collver said. "And he said, 'You have no idea what it means to just get something from home, just to receive something to know that we're not forgotten here.'"
And, King said, many of the deployed soldiers are so humble that they don't want to ask friends and family members to send items.
"I'm sending you a box regardless, so tell me what you want," King said. "They don't ask for anything."
PUTTING MEANING INTO WORDS
The Blue Star Mothers save every thank you note they receive from the soldiers. When the letters are read, the women said they need to hand out tissues at their meetings because they can be so overcome by emotion.
"Many Marines commented to me about some of the items they received in Afghanistan," a local ma-rine wrote. "(One said,) 'These cookies smell like the ones my Grandma makes every Christmas!' Of course, they didn't taste quite like 'Grandma's', but I cannot accurately describe the joy on the face of that 19-year-old Lance Corporal who was on his first deployment; spending his first holiday season away from his family."
Other military personnel send cards signed by several soldiers. One of the cards Collver said she finds most touching also came from a deployed soldier.
"Dear mothers of many," one card read. "Soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen may go through wives, but mothers are constant."
Some of the boxes sent to the soldiers include letters from local children, thanking them for their service. The mothers said the soldiers will also often send thank you notes directly to the classrooms. Some have even gone to visit the class when they return to the area.
"I just want to thank you for the Christmas letter and card. I'm deeply touched. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to think of me. I appreciate the box of goodies as well," a soldier wrote to an area student. "I'm sure the Cinderella play was awesome. Believe it or not, I'm actually from that area... As tough as it is to be away from my family, I'm extremely grateful for awesome people like you."
HELPING THE CAUSE
Each box the Blue Star Mothers send out will be filled. Because they send flat-rate boxes out, weight is not an issue. However, because of the size of the boxes, to ship each one costs more than $13.
The Blue Star Mothers will be accepting monetary donations to help with shipping costs. Money could also be helpful to purchase additional necessary items.
Some of the most necessary items include travel size hand sanitizer; baby wipes; Ziploc bags of all sizes; toothpaste; tissues; eye drops; beef jerky; sunflower seeds; nuts; Little Smokeys sausages; gum; hard candy; paperback books, particularly mystery, fiction, fantasy and non-fiction; magazines, especially sport, outdoor, car, truck audio and electronics; puzzles; games; and video tape television shows, such as CSI, Survivor and football games.
However, because the deployed can have long stretches of down time, other more fun items are also appreciated.
"We love to send them little toys, because it is Christmas," King said.
In the past, the soldiers have received plastic army figurines, teddy bears and decks of cards, among other gifts.
A no-cost way to help is to simply write a letter or a card to a soldier. The mothers suggested doing this as the family gathers for Thanksgiving this year, having everyone take a few minutes to write a note. All notes and cards may be addressed to "any soldier." Additionally, if there is time in the class, the Blue Star Mothers said that soldiers have especially expressed how much they enjoy hearing from children.
All items may be dropped off at SKF Falconer; Zion Lutheran Church Frews-burg; Trinity United Metho-dist Church Frewsburg; RHJ Elementary school Frewsburg; Frewsburg High School; James Prendergast Library; Fenton Historical Society; Fluvanna Com-munity Church; Lakeside Bible Chapel; Gateway Center; BOCES A building office; BOCES E building office; BOCES Criminal Jus-tice Program; JCC Business Office; Snap Fitness Center at both locations; Gerry United Methodist Church; Bemus Point United Metho-dist Church; County Build-ings in Mayville at the Main entrance in the Gerace Building and HRC Building; District Attorney's Office in County Courthouse; Pine Valley elementary school; Starbucks in Jamestown; Shults Service Center on Fluvanna ave; The Clip Joint Barber shop on Fluvanna ave; Reid's Motor Sports on N. Main St Jamestown; Kiantone Congregational Church; Harley Davidson of Jamestown; Frewsburg Le-gion; Neckers Co General Store in Clymer; Bakery and Deli at Fluvanna Avenue Plaza; Westfield American Legion; St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Mayville; Levant Church; Ag Center; Brocton Hotel; and the ILS Vet-eran's Club in Jamestown.
Donations will be collected Wednesday and Thurs-day at most locations, but will be accepted at the Kiantone Congregational Church until the boxes are packed Saturday.
Additional information may be obtained by contacting Rowley at 569-5334 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.