PUNXSUTAWNEY — Although Easter is the holiday that is approaching, it may seem more like Christmas to the American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq who receive any of the care packages or “goodie boxes” being prepared and shipped abroad thanks to the generous response of area residents to a campaign sponsored by the Jefferson County chapter of the Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees (PASR).
Hundreds of toiletry items, snack foods, dental supplies, candy treats and recreational items in 64 boxes and packages were recently delivered to St. Bernard Church in Indiana, where volunteers from Soldiers’ Angels, a national support group, will sort the merchandise and package them for mailing to chaplains in the Armed Forces who will see that the “gifts from home” are distributed to the troops.
In addition to the donated goods, the public joined with PASR members in providing $400 to help underwrite the shipping charges, which are approximately $1 per pound. Also included with the contributions were 12 fleece lap robes that will be given to a veterans’ hospital in western Pennsylvania.
Coordinated by PASR member Charlotte S. Fye, the campaign was made possible through the cooperation of five drop-off sites: Comet Market and County Market in Punxsutawney; Mike’s BiLo in Reynoldsville; the Rebecca M. Arthurs Memorial Library in Brookville; and the Brockway Drug Company in Brockway.
Staff members at the various locations reported that many donors were eager and happy to help. A number expressed the desire that PASR would continue the project in the fall.
In addition to individuals and families, several church groups, civic organizations and a troop of Girl Scouts from Reynoldsville supported the drive with gifts of requested items or with cash to help with expenses.
When the supplies from Jefferson County were taken to Indiana, Kim Kordell, the head of the Soldiers’ Angels volunteers, said, “Your residents certainly outdid themselves with all these donations. And your response is an answer to prayer because at the end of March we shipped the last seven boxes of the the things we had on hand. Our shelves would have been bare for April if you hadn’t arrived with all these wonderful gifts for the troops.”
Chapter President Gordon Stuby said, “PASR is very thankful to everyone who helped to make our second Support the Troops campaign so successful. To all those who generously gave supplies or cash, to the staff of each of the cooperating collection places, and to The Spirit and Jefferson County Neighbors for their much-appreciated publicity, we extend our sincere gratitude. I’m sure that our troops will be happy to see proof that people back home haven’t forgotten the sacrifices they are making in the service of our country.”
In a letter from Kuwait, Chaplain Jeff Hastings, who helps to distribute the gifts to the soldiers, wrote, “I want to thank you so much for the care package. My words cannot express just how your gift has been used to touch the lives of the soldiers that I have the absolute privilege to minister to here in Kuwait. ... You should see the huge smiles that come on their faces and they are so appreciative of the gifts.
“I walk up to them carrying your box and introduce myself — many times I have not met them as I have approximately 1,500 soldiers that I am caring for — and say that this is a gift from caring Americans who love, support, and pray for you,” he wrote. “Most often, this initiates a conversation about who they are, where they are from … and how things are going.”
Hasting continued, “I have also used your care packages for Convoy Prayers. We meet the convoys ... before they leave for Iraq. My assistant and I get out of our vehicle and wait until they have finished (their convoy briefing). ... We approach them, introduce ourselves and again offer your gifts. They are so grateful. ... Snacks are so appreciated during these long trips; some of the trips last up to two weeks. Then, I have the privilege to pray for them before they leave.”
He also noted, “I want you to know that you receive part of the blessings from the difference that is made in each soldier’s life. You are being used to help support them, encourage them, help them to carry on when things are tough here or back at home. You give them hope. ... You are truly such a wonderful blessing of the Lord to my soldiers and to me. Many will tell me that your care package is such a great reminder that there are those back home supporting us and praying for us.”
In his concluding remarks, Hastings wrote, “Here are some of the blessings of your gifts. They have been used to bring soldiers back to Christ, reunite husbands and wives, defeat depression, end suicidal thoughts, and bring hope. ... Again, I want to thank you for all you have done. I am not sure why you sent your care package, but I am so glad you did. ... P.S. Many of the soldiers themselves told me personally with a big smile to tell you, ‘Thank you!’”