Monday, December 8, 2008

Fightin' Mad Mary & Q Rock TFT's World

All of those boxes in the last post are on their way to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo.

I have so much to tell you about so many wonderful people that helped make this event a success. There are several post-worthy tales, and instead of lumping them all into one post, I've decided to "reveal" them a post at time.

Now, I'm revealing a little secret.

While we collected and wraps gifts yesterday, Fightin Mad Mary & Q, our favorite Hollywood Bloggers, had a fundraiser for Toys for Troops last night, at their home in Studio City, California.

Fightin' Mad Mary (left), 2 people I don't know,
and GloZell (right), whom I feel like I know.

I've been in cahoots with Mary, sending her posters and chotchkes for her shindig, while she worked and worked and worked. I know: I stalked saw her tweets. "Looking for someone to donate wine." "Looking for a caterer." "Making out invitations."

It look like she pulled her event off without a hitch. Barefoot Wines donated all of the wine, and sent a representative to serve, for the party. Catering and furniture were donated, and guests brought their checkbooks.

The total value of the donations that Mary and Q raised for Toys for Troops:


Get out! I know!

Mary called me last night, with her post-party wrap up. She was as exhausted as I was, but we both laughed on the phone, comparing notes and telling stories about our perspective days. There's something special about meeting, and talking to Mary: When you walk away (or hang up the phone), you're amazed to suddenly realize that you haven't been friends with her since grade school. She just makes you feel like you've been friends your entire life!

I haven't met Q, yet, but I've seen his photos, read his writing, and met his wife. I have no doubt he'll be my second-best friend when I meet them together, some day!

Q and A Celebrity: Any Scrubs fans recognize this guest?

This is the part where I become speechless...but I'll try to keep speech-ing.

You know, when someone does something little for me, I get all smiley and want to do cartwheels: "I remembered you like raspberry, so I picked this up at the bakery." You did that for me? Yayyyy! A cookie! Thank you! I can't believe you did that!

When someone--someone 2000 miles away!--gives up their home, finds beverages, and caterers and furniture, and invites 150 people to give money to help send packages to soldiers on my mailing list? And those people show up? And write checks? And they send money to PayPal, and e-mail me with encouraging messages?

[15 minutes of staring at this screen, trying to figure out what to write next]...

There just needs to be a word or phrase in the English language for "Thank You" that is larger in magnitude than a cookie thank you. A thank you that expresses that when I think about what you've done for us, I experience a small catch in my breath. A swelling in my heart. A shaking of my head, and a widening of my eyes.

Mary and Q: When I come up with that word, I'm sending it to you.

To read about Fightin Mad Mary's, and see the slideshow of photos from her event, click HERE.

Christmas Gifts to Soldiers: Mini Wrap Up

It's midnight.

Our event was so successful today that I am just this minute finalizing everything. We had a huge crew of volunteers, and a steady stream of people dropped off gifts and cash donations for the entire 3 hours we'd allotted for the event—and then for another hour. I finally had to just bring everything home and finish up the packing in my living room.

Every soldier on our list will get 2 boxes this year, and there are random items left to send, so they'll get MORE from us after tomorrow.

There were LOTS of homemade cookies; the bakers in this berg really delivered, today.

There were 2 TV stations, and 1 newspaper reporter present.

I shared the afternoon with students from the University, 1 foreign exchange student from Slovakia, former soldiers, current National Guardsmen, former high school buddies, soldier's parents and families, local bloggers, several of my own cousins, my sister and her husband, my mother, my niece, old friends, and new friends. And Clint, of course.

We had a special treat at the end of the day, when Musician/Comedian Jim Kates (Campfire Jim) arrived, and graced us with a song he wrote, called "An Untitled Song for an Unknown Soldier."

As I said, it's midnight. Every box is labeled, and ready to go to the post office in the morning. I am exhausted, and happy, and I will post more pictures, and YouTube videos of Jim's performance, tomorrow, if I get a chance.

This is one of THREE vehicles it took to get everything home, tonight.

And if you're wondering...


The brownies are ready to go.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

We're Here to Help

I sent out an e-newsletter for Toys for Troops this week, reminding everyone that our event is this Sunday. One quick important message can bear repeating here:
HEY! YOU! YOU OUT-OF-TOWNERS! And even you Out-of-Staters! There's still time for you and your family, or your coworkers, to gather up a box to send to a soldier. You can stuff a military flat-rate box to the gills with all of the goodies you can think of, and mail it to a soldier yourself, for just $10.95. Take it from me: shopping for this box is FUN.

It's going to be one of the feel-goodiest things you do over the holidays.
This is one message I work hardest to stress to people I encounter in surrounding in communities, and correspond with from everywhere in the U.S.:

You can do something from wherever you are.

A large percentage of what I do for Toys for Troops is to help YOU help THEM.

One of my favorite "assists" was with an elderly (her words, not mine) woman, Carol. She lives about 50 miles away from me. She asked me to come to her home and box her beanies up. I was overextended at the time, and began walking her through mailing them herself. She resisted: She was scared, she'd do it wrong.

And then, out of the blue, she sent me this message:
I will "just do it." I am 68, 'bout time I grew up, right!!
Reviewing her e-mails still makes me smile: Subject lines read: "Sorry to bother you again." Aw, she never bothered me. And then, one day, I read this, from her:
I printed your email so I can take the paper to the Post Office with me. I have 105 packed in a Weinie-Pak box from Devro-Tee Pak, they are smashed clear to the top. I need to go to the attic tomorrow and cut me a piece of brown, craft paper to cover up the name of the company.

Harold & I weighed the box on our home scales, about 35 pounds. So I will put my to & from label on it for PFC _______ and get them shipped. I, again thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Yeah! They did it! Carol and Harold mailed their boxes. I knew they could do it.

If you'd like to do something for the troops this year, from wherever you are, there's still time for you to do it. Deadlines are closing in on us, but there's still time. And we will help you. Email me:

While we help you, there are others out there helping us:

Marie Millard is not sending Christmas cards this year...

And Fightin Mad Mary has something up her sleeve.

Note that they are "Not from around here." They're doing something from "over there."

You're welcome to join them.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Christmas Care Packages: 2008

Packing boxes in 2007

It's been 48 hours since the Thanksgiving boxes were shipped! Enough! Time to get off our duffs and starts focusing on Christmas boxes! Chop chop, we have a lot to do!

If you're on the Toys for Troops mailing list, or in my e-mail contacts, you've already received two notices from me today. If you are on those lists, then this is the third time you're hearing this from me:

Christmas Gifts to Soldiers

Sunday, December 7, 2008

(corner of Springfield
and Mattis, Champaign)

We mean to send everyone on our list a box of great holiday goodies! CDs, DVDs, t-shirts, socks, games, letters, and gourmet foodies.

YOU can help by:
  • Purchasing a gift for a soldier, and bringing it to the event or dropping it in one of our drop boxes
  • Baking some cookies or other treats
  • Showing up on the 7th with Christmas wrap, scotch tape, scissors, and a smile
  • Clicking on the button on the right, and sponsor the cost of shipping 1 box
I have downloadable, printable flyers if you are interested in learning more, or sharing this information with your coworkers, church, scouts, VFW, or any other organization.

As always, if you're not from Central Illinois, you can still participate in the merrymaking: If you'd like to send a box of gifts to a soldier, we'll give you a name, address, some gift ideas, and shipping advice. Many from around the U.S. have already started their boxes.

For more information, contact me:

More scenes from last year.

Please forward this blog, or this information to anyone that you think might be interested. What you can do for us in the way of spreading the word would cost us thousands of dollars in conventional advertising. We rely on you to help us avoid that spending, and put our money in better places—like a soldier's mail box!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Post Office Party

Whoo hoo! All of the Thanksgiving Care Packages are on their way to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo. Clint and I spent 90 minutes in the Post Office this morning.

We are becoming Post Office Conniseurs.

First of all, I smartly ordered all of my boxes and forms from However, I stupidly didn't allow enough time for them to be delivered. Monday evening I was still boxless, and running like crazy. When all was said and done, my shipping supplies came from Post Offices in Champaign, Savoy, Tolono and Urbana. Lesson learned; I won't do THAT again!

Also, I've learned that calling ahead is much appreciated. It's good to go when every window is open. Seriously, you just try bringing 70 boxes to the counter when there are only 2 clerks working, and see how much love you get from the people behind you that just need to buy one lousy stamp.

Not much, that's how much.

Andy was our lucky clerk today. He has a niece in Baghdad right now, and contributes to weekly care packages for her.

My secretary, Clint, helped me get Customs Forms together that I thought I'd already finished. My bad.

Here are a few of the boxes we wheeled in.

See those customers behind me? They are happy customers, oh, so happy to be in line behind us.

"Why?" you ask

Here's why:

I gambled this morning: I put this note and a tray full of home-made brownies at the counter, in hopes that it would appease those grouchier, more pressed-for-time customers


Chocolate and a gentle explanation worked like magic. We didn't encounter one cross word this morning. We chatted, we laughed. We shook hands and passed business cards around. People asked me for flyers—and the brownie recipe. They patted my shoulder, and thanked us for all we do.

It was almost sad when it was time for us to go. I gathered up my bag of labels, and announced "We're taking our brownies and we're going home now. Last chance!" while Clint carried the tray down the long line of customers still waiting. A few hedged, then got out of line to grab one before we left

One clerk yelled "Bye, Mrs. Toys for Troops Lady!!"

Sniff. Bye-bye Post-Office People. I'll miss you.

Oh...and uh, pencil me in for December 8. I'll be back with more boxes

And brownies. Definitely, brownies.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day & Thanksgiving Care Packages to Troops

I couldn't decide on which title to use up there; this was such an amazing day, on 2 (two!) counts!

First of all, the Lincoln Trail Elementary School really comes through for our local vets. The assembly they put together is amazing. The children accompany in the color guard, and with it, 200 more Veterans. Vets of all ages, and from every branch of the military.

They honored U.S. Veterans by reading letters to them. They honored U.S. Veterans by writing poetry for them. They honored U.S. Veteran's by singing to them. They honored U.S. Veteran's by interviewing them on camera, and creating a video with their answers to such questions as "what did you learn in the military?" and "what did you miss the most?" The video also included snapshots of veterans and their families.

As part of their Veteran's day project, the students have been helping Toys for Troops by collecting items for soldier's Thanksgiving Care Packages. They wrote hundreds of letters, and presented me with all of that, today, along with some money to help send everything.

There were so many wagons that I lost count. And look at all of the loot in just this one!

I thanked them and promised them that their letters would be in the hands of soldiers on the other side of the world, most likely, by the time they sat down for their own Thanksgiving feasts.

And after the event, these Vets thanked me. And I thanked THEM for all they had done for us and our country. I was honored to be in this photo with them.

And off we went, for Phase II of this day:

Box after box was brought in, and merged with donations that had come in from the community in the last couple of weeks:

We are slow at work this week, and I got that A-OK to pack our boxes there. Coworkers joined in the fun.

Here's Kurt, our maintenance guy, and jack of all trades. He can wire, plumb, farm, rebuild your transmission, perform brain surgery and fly a rocket to the moon. And yet my tape gun got the best of him.

Apparently this editor, Heather, also slept through TapeGun 101. She fought the gun, and the gun won:

Uh, twice:

Jessica, Diane, and Kurt finish adding letters, sealing, and throwing on customs forms:

My job: To point at things, and say "do this" and "do that," and make my coworkers do alllll of the work, so I could then pose with the final products:

Me, and the smoking tape gun.

My car, until tomorrow morning:

Thank you so much to everyone that helped this event go so smoothly. Bloggers, friends, and acquaintances forwarded our newsletters and my e-mails. Many "far-away" readers helped by sending their own boxes to soldiers from their own homes.
  • Financial donations covered the majority of the shipping expenses.
  • Care package items were left on my porch, brought to my workplace, and dropped off at the "country casa" as Clint or I worked there.
  • I received homemade cookies from fellow bloggers, in the mail, did cookie runs last night to pick up more, and had even more dropped off today. I have an 8 am run in the morning, will pack the last few boxes, and then it's off to the post office.
It is once again, a joint effort that made this project a huge success. It is because of your contributions that we receive letters such as this one, from A1C Shanna H, just 3 weeks ago:
I just want to let you know and the generous people who work
with you that the all airman I've met through my almost three years in
the military appreciate everything you are doing. From the children's
letters to the homemade cookies, all are packaged with the TLC that we
need and miss. The best part of a deployment is walking into work and
seeing a letter with my name on it. It's a constant reminder to us that
all our efforts are not going down for nothing. And the Americans that
we so proudly fight for are stepping up and showing their own gratitude
with a reminder to the soldiers and airman overseas. I will never be
able to say thank you enough for all your efforts.
I'll close now, with this video, of the students singing to the Veterans as they left the Assembly this morning:

Oh, and P.S.: Our next project starts...yesterday. Christmas Gifts to Soldiers. Get ready for it!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ah-HEM! Now that I have the attention of the entire United States, it is time to announce that we are, yes we ARE, sending Thanksgiving and Christmas care packages to the soldiers on the Toys for Troops Mailing list...Every soldier.

You know that I've got a *bit* on my plate. I didn't possibly see how I could pull off 2 back-to-back holiday events in 4 weeks, so I did something I'm learning that is OK to do. I screamed:


Lincoln Trail Elementary School, in Mahomet, IL, responded.

The students at LTES are taking on our Thanksgiving Care Packages as their Veteran's day project. They are trying to collect care package items and homemade cookies enough to make sure that each of 65 soldiers get an entire box of Thanksgiving love from home. They will provide 600 letters, and are trying to collect enough money to send these boxes. That's about $711.

Yes. Of course you can help! Thank you for asking. We're not going to make a bunch of little kids do ALL of the work!! Come, help us help them help us!

  • If you'd like to donate care package items for this project, contact me at A list of care package ideas can be viewed here:
      • If you'd like to sponsor the cost of shipping one box ($10.95), click on the PayPal button in the sidebar.
      • Bakers, bring me a dozen cookies on November 10. 2 dozen, if you're feeling industrious.
      • Send me a note, and I'll send you a printable flyer to post in your office, church, VFW, post office...wherever you'd like to post it.
      • Forward a link to this blog entry to anyone that you think might like to participate.

      We will mail our boxes on November 12, the day after Veteran's Day, so that they can be in soldier's hands by Thanksgiving morning.

      OUT OF TOWNERS, DON'T FORGET: YOU CAN PLAY TOO! I'm e-mailing soldiers' names and addresses to folks right now, from San Diego to Philadelphia, that want to send a care package to a soldier.

      Can I make a bold statement? Shopping for, and sending a box to a soldier is going to make you feel very, very good.


      I am still shopping around for a venue for our Christmas event. We like to send more "luxurious" gifts for Christmas: CDs, DVDs, gourmet foods, socks, shirts, knives, games...anything you'd like to find under your own tree. We'll wrap each gift and send each soldier a box full of presents.

      If you can't participate with the Thanksgiving boxes, you're welcome to throw a little something into the Christmas boxes.

      If you have any ideas where I can throw this event together in this berg, put it in the comments!

      I'll be hitting the streets to figure it out myself!

      See you soon!

      Friday, September 5, 2008

      Soldier Guest Blogger: SSG Kim

      Today's post and accompanying photos are provided by our Kosovo correspondent, SSG Kim. Her message and photos took my breath away. I hope they do yours, also.

      Hello to all my dear friends,

      I apologize for not writing sooner, however the amount of work to be done is endless here. As soon as we can assist one person, or problem, ten more arise, and I don’t have the heart or ability to turn away from any of them. There is no doubt in my mind that God has placed me here, at this time, to do his work. I am grateful for that every night when I lay my head down to sleep.

      I wish you could all see this place, and understand the suffering that continues here. However, these people have a tenacity, and a love for life that somehow maintains them. Many times I have heard how some child wants to grow up to be an American Soldier. Not a British, or French or anything else…an American Soldier. Because we volunteer to come here to help them and leave our families behind. It’s the greatest way they can think of to honor not only the American Soldier’s, but the American People. When I tell them how I receive boxes full of things for their children from people they don’t know in the States, they are speechless, and tears follow.

      You are their hero. I only wish I had the means to convey this to all of you. I am considering staying for another tour. These people and their struggle for freedom, the thing we so easily take for granted, has touched a part of my heart that no one has every touched in this way before. I will keep you all posted. There are days when I just can’t take anymore, and I sit down and have a long cry. God always yanks me up by my ammo belt and reminds me why I’m here.

      My Soldiers are thankfully doing well. The younger ones are starting to rotate out on leave for well deserved breaks. There have been children born, parents buried, wives that have left, and so on since we’ve been here. They always seem to pull through. They are and will always be my true heroes. I wish you could see the tears in the eyes of the Soldier who came to show me a picture of his daughter who was born while he was waiting for a plane in the airport to come home. "Hero" is just not a good enough word. They all amaze me, every day.

      I miss so many things here though. The smell of my dog’s after they have been swimming. The feel of the grass on my feet. So many things that I will never take for granted again.

      I wish all of you the best and please keep us in your prayers. I will try to write soon. Lori has my address if anyone would like to write.

      SSG Kim

      This is how I spent my day off. There is a beanie in each bag. At least half of the stuff in these bags has been sent to me from the United States.

      My crew:

      Helping a farmer vaccinate his sheep. This one got the best of me!!!

      Notice I'm telling the sheep which way to go by pointing. The vet is cracking up...

      My favorite school in Ferizaj/Uresovic. All these children are severly handicapped, but they KNOW WHERE I HIDE THE BEANIES IN MY PANTS POCKETS!!!

      Yet another stray dog who is sleeping on the sand bags that surround
      the site where Milochovic gave the infamous speech of 1989.

      Caught crying during a MEDCAP, medical treatment for the most needy, somewhere in Kosovo. There are times such as this, when I just can't play the hard core Soldier any longer. Next to me is my wonderful Serbian interpreter, Davor.

      Handing out school supplies and beanies in Novo Brdo, a VERY poor area of KOSOVO:

      Riots in Mitrovice:

      With my Serbian interpreter on the infamous bridge in Mitrovica:

      Give it up for SSG Kim. If you want her e-mail address, contact me at

      Wednesday, August 6, 2008

      Helping Families of Injured Soldiers

      Warrior Transition Battalion


      Sunday September 21, 2008

      2:00 in the afternoon

      Chanute Air Museum

      1011 Pacesetter Drive

      We are proud to announce that Toys for Troops will be working hand-in-hand with Family Services at The Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) in Fort Gordon, GA.

      When soldiers are injured on-duty, they are flown home via MedEvac. Family Services at the WTB contact the spouses and parents of these soldiers, and arrange for them to fly in to meet their loved ones.

      As you can imagine, the family members are often distraught, and leave home without remembering to bring baby's favorite teddy bear, or their own toothbrushes. They face hours in waiting rooms before they get a chance to see their soldiers or to talk to physicians.

      We at Toys for Troops hope to make the arrival and the time in those waiting rooms a little more comfortable for these family members. We will be filling bags/boxes with nonperishable food items, various sundries such as tissue, hand sanitizers, lip balm, etc, and toys and activities to occupy both the adults and the children.

      We will send 200 packages to begin with, and then maintain that inventory for Family Services. There are currently 420 soldiers at the WTB in Fort Gordon, with 3 incoming influxes a week.

      We hope that you'll join us in our endeavors.

      We need:

      ITEM DONATIONS to include in the boxes (see list below)

      YOUR TIME on September 21. Join us in assembling bags and boxes

      YOUR TIME after September 21. This will be an ongoing project. After the initial 200 boxes, we hope to work with smaller groups, on a smaller scale, to maintain inventory of these bags and boxes. If you work with or know of a youth group, scouting group, classroom, church group, or anyone else that would like to help out with a packing event on a smaller scale, please contact us.

      If you don't have time or other resources, we'd appreciate it if you can help spread the word. Forward this letter to anyone that you think might be interested in helping out the cause!

      Items You Can Donate:

      Toiletry Items: tissues · wet wipes · hand sanitizer · toothbrushes · toothpaste · lip balm · aspirin · deodorant · fingernail clippers/file · band aids · sewing kit · razors · shaving cream · lotions (Please note that we will only accept donations of new, unopened items.)

      Nonperishable Food Items: Hard candy · cereal bars · nuts · Pringles potato chips · gum · cheese or peanut butter crackers · dried fruit or raisins · individual drink mixes for water bottles · individually wrapped goldfish crackers · lifesavers · trail mix (Please note that we will not accept expired or opened food items.)

      Toys/Entertainment for Children and Adults: puzzle books: word search, sudoku, etc. · coloring books · crayons · playing cards · UNO/Old Maid, etc cards · stickers · stationery and envelopes · children's DVDs

      If you are interested in donating any of these items, please contact me, Lori Stewart, at, or Marcee Hampton at We will arrange a pickup or delivery time.

      You can also drop your donations off at the Chanute Air Museum, 1011 Pacesetter Drive, Rantoul, IL.

      We will try to keep an inventory of donations as they come in, and can make further suggestions to you for donation ideas.

      All donations must be in by Saturday, September 20.

      Don't forget that your monetary donations for tax deductible!

      Tuesday, July 22, 2008

      SSG Kim

      I haven't updated you lately, but I just want you to know that Toys for Troops is still alive and kicking over here. We have a lot going on in the wings, are expanding our services, and you'll be hearing more about it in the days to come.

      In the meantime, I want to share an email I got on July 3rd, from SSG Kim, serving in Kosovo. She wrote:
      We have already been deployed for 4 months and spirits are getting low. I would like to request some beanies to hand out to my younger Soldiers to help them get through this. I also leave the wire every day and would love to hand some out in the poverty ridden villages. God Bless you and your organization for all you do for those of us so far from home and and the ones we love.
      The day before the holiday weekend! I couldn't wait until Monday! I left work early and sent 250 beanies on their way, with promises of more. And we continued to correspond. Her next email read:
      I am very lucky as my job allows me to go out into the orphanages, displaced persons camps, and the villages of the war torn. It's quite heartbreaking to see. I met an older couple the other day that watched three of their sons butchered in front of them in 97. Through my translator I asked why they didn't leave. She kept telling me that she knew the Americans would come. She has 35 people, all family members and mostly children, living in three rooms.... I see these things every day. I can guarantee that I can find a home for as many [toys] as you can get to me.
      And, a few days later, she sent photos:

      Friends, these are OUR American soldiers. Stuff is really happening out there. It's more than the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and CNN and Time magazine. These are real soldiers, helping real people. I get letters from them. Their mothers, fathers, stepmothers, wives, sisters, brothers.

      Thankfully, I get emails from you. Every. Single. Day. Every single day, someone from this United States e-mails me, and asks me for an address, or how to send beanies, or what can go in a care package. I wrote to Florida and Minnesota this morning, and I talked on the phone with an Army administrator this afternoon.

      We are very, very busy. And there's stuff to do right now, and there will be stuff to do later. We're be here, if you want to play in our sandbox.

      In the meantime, show SSG Kim a little love, will you? I'll save you the cost of a stamp, and direct her to the comments here; she can forward them to her guys, who are our guys, too.

      If ever a record should be broken this is it.

      Who's on deck?