Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christmas Gifts to Soldiers: December 6

Christmas Gifts to Soldiers

Sunday, December 6, 2009

(corner of Springfield
and Mattis, Champaign)

Thanksgiving boxes are arriving to their final destinations—I just received a note from a Major saying "thank you for taking care of my marines!" We immediately turn our attention, to Christmas gifts for our guys & gals in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last year's event at Village Inn was so successful that we're working with the fine folks there this year also. There's plenty of space for our project, and plenty of good food to wind down to when all of the work is done.

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 off before hand. If you need pickup service, we can arrange that also.
  • Baking some cookies or other treats
  • Showing up on the 6th 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 have already started their boxes.

For more information, contact me:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Veteran's Day Wrap-Up

Wednesday morning found me, once again, at Lincoln Trail Elementary School.

It is becoming one of the most exciting days of my year. I worry this post may become rote, but these kids blow me away every year. They started working on this months ago, and it shows!

Diane came with me this year, and we got to be big shots and sit next to the Color Guard.

This year, the students honored, among all others, WWII Veterans.

I love this photo.

I wish I could tell it all. There was singing. And dancing.

I spoke in front of all of those people, plus millions you don't see. I never get better at this. The students talk like they've been in show business for 100 years, and I still have to hold the microphone with 2 hands to keep from dropping it.

The students collected and packed so many boxes for the troops that they ran out of wagons:

They packed Di's car until it looked like this, and our lives were threatened if she hit the brakes too hard on the way home:

One for the record books: Me and the student council (or is it"The student council and I"? I am definitely not smarter than a 5th grader, Mr. Foxworthy.)

I normally have the Post-care-package details done ahead of time, but the USPS delivered newfangled customs forms with newfangled instructions and I had to clear up a few issues at the last minute. Read: Wednesday Night: no customs forms.

I put out a Facebook call: Bring pen to the Esquire, and I'm buying. (For all of you sticklers, I respectfully note that beer and pizza was on my dime. Your tax-deductible donations go strictly to postage.)

We knocked out customs forms in 2 hours.

The next business du jour was to take all of those boxes to the post office. We're a polite organization, so we marched in ahead of time and said, "Post Office, we are coming in here on Thursday!"

Sidenote: You know I've taken to bringing brownies to appease the poor stamp-buying natives that get stuck behind us? Well, guess what? We used the self-cleaning feature on our new oven and 100-million degrees of heat shorted out some bamboozled wires in the doodly-housing. I had to commission brownies from Diana. You remember Diana:

Thanks for supporting the troops, girlfriend.
Raise your glasses to Diana!

The Post Office folks were prepared, and armed themselves against us with extra employees! Normally 2 against 1, with ample time to fill out last-minute customs forms, we found ourselves 3-to-2,

Unfortunately, the first cart-load of boxes was so heavy that we couldn't lift it over the divider thingy in the door, and our alphabetized customs forms went flying all over the foyer (Sorry, Chris, the Alphabetizer). We shuffled through gads of forms Atkins through Zoffman, in the interim leaving a post-office employees twiddling their thumbs a few times.

The beautiful thing?

It was, in the midst of this, festive.

One woman asked if we were really sending all of this stuff to the troops. When I replied, she hugged me. Solidly.

Another gentleman stepped up and asked if he could, himself, send 2 boxes.

And, when all was said and done....

Our clerk, Dawn, who has two (2!)(II!) (DOS!) sons in active duty, pulled out her own purse and handed me $20. The gentleman just behind her (oy, I did not get his name!) paid for a box of beanies to be shipped AIRMAIL (That's $27 vs. $14) to a soldier. How often do you see this: I just HAD to get a picture of the post office paying ME:

Really. She's not taking money, she's giving it.

And people, if this Veteran's Day honor should ever come to my kid when he is about the same age as the gentlemen honored on Wednesday,

(Jolley & Standish, 2nd tour Operation Iraqi Freedom)

It will be in the year 2067.

Gnightgirl will be 104 years old.

Bookmark me.

With my hand on my heart, I promise: If I'm capable, I'll be there for this one too.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veteran's Day Eve

Toys for Troops is gearing up for Veteran's Day! I spent most of Sunday finalizing letters, forms, and various documents for the kids at Lincoln Trail Schools,

and gathering up military flat rate boxes and customs forms:

I met the kids yesterday to hand over their final supplies, and get a sneak peek at all of the items they've collected. OVER 2000 items donated to the soldiers on our list, for their Thanksgiving care packages. And letters from each child, to boot!

A few of the Student Council members got to join together for a photo op, and should be in the News Gazette today or tomorrow. Watch for them.

Tomorrow's the big day, their Veteran's Day Assembly. They are honoring WWII Veterans, and I must remember to take a handkerchief. There will be slide shows and singing, and readings, and I get choked up every year.

They will present me with all of their hard work, and we will finalize the boxes. Customs forms have to be finished out, and I've already forewarned the Champaign Post Office that we'll be coming in with a LOT of boxes.

Of course, I have commissioned some brownies for the folks that get stuck in line behind us there.

Ahhh...and then we will be done.

For one day.

The Christmas event will be December 6 at Village Inn, and we have to start hussling to get this ready!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Holidays are Coming: Toys for Troops Kicks Into Gear

Thanksgiving Care Packages to Troops

It's November already! Thanksgiving is only 23 days away, and between now and then, we will be shipping care packages to every soldier on our list, which is larger now than it's ever been.

As in years' past, the students at Lincoln Trails Elementary School in Mahomet are grabbing the reigns for the Thanksgiving boxes: They've been gathering care package items for weeks now, as part of their upcoming Veteran's Day Project. This year, they're going one further: We're going to teach them to pack those flat-rate boxes and fill out customs forms on their own.

Toys for Troops will still be responsible for the cost of shipping all of these Thanksgiving boxes next Wednesday, a cost that will total between $900-$1000.

As always, you're welcome to participate!

The cost of shipping 1 box is $11.95.

If you'd like to sponsor the cost of shipping a box to a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan,
  • Click on the PayPal donation button on the right, or at
  • Send a check for $11.95 to Toys for Troops, 1123 Lancaster, Champaign, IL 61821
(Remember, you donation is tax-deductible!)

If you, your family, your office, or your classroom would like to send your own personal box of goodies to a soldier, email me at I have names and addresses, and lots of ideas for you.

You may or may not know that my own son has just pushed North from Kuwait into Iraq. His tour is just beginning, and he will be there for another 12 months. Although I would never forget how much your packages and cards mean to him, having him there once again really brings it home. This project remains near and dear to my heart, and to all of those that are on the receiving end of your contributions and well-wishes.

Stay tuned! We will launch our Holiday/Christmas projects next week!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Toys for Troops Marches On

I wanted to break in here to let you know that although you haven't heard a lot about Toys for Troops, we are still forging ahead.

We slowed down in the last few months as most of the troops on our list came home. I happily remove names of those that are safe in their family's arms, and start sniffing out names and addresses of guys and gals that have replaced them, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition, we are laundering beanies. Our initial call for beanie babies left me so inundated with donations that a kind neighbor of the country casa let us store thousands of them in his farm shed until we got caught up on those in my garage.

We hauled them back out a month ago, and though they're in good shape, they're musty and dusty, and we're laundering all of them before we ship.

Super-secret TFT code: "W" means "these are Washed!"

So, little by little, we are gearing up for our 3rd year of operations at Toys for Troops. There is no shortage of things to do, or soldiers to support. Last week I received a letter from a central Illinois soldier, "Major M.," who is currently serving in Iraq. It read, in part,
We conduct operations in nearby towns and small villages about every 2 to 4 days and in the short time I have been here, I have noticed a common trend amongst the children[...] They very rarely have any kind of toys or stuffed animals. [...] As a father of two small children under 5 and one more on the way in August, it saddens me that most of these children don't have any toys or stuffed animals...I am asking for any help you could give to help these children here.

I had a box in the mail the next day, and sent 2 more the day after that.
I also received another letter this week from a military mom, asking me to add the son of a family friend to our mailing list. He is
"stationed in Afghanistan with about 15 other guys, they're training Afghani soldiers, and eating Afghan fod...which is apparently why he asked his dad for "anything in a can, pop tarts, food!"
In addition, we shipped 4 boxes of beanies to soldiers aboard the USS Halyburton, for them to toss to children on the pier at their future homecoming (date of which can not be revealed).

We keep busy, but that isn't all I wanted to share with you.

What is most important about this update, and what continues to amaze me is this: I received the names of 27 soldiers this week that wanted beanies or could use a care package or a letter from home. I put out a shout out with that fact on Facebook, and enough people stepped forward that there was a care package heading out to each of those 2 hours' time. Cookies and letters were mailed that same day!

I have always told the soldiers on our mailing list that people here want to do something to help out, and that all we need is a little direction: A name, an address will usually do it. I will be proud to be able to send them yet another letter telling them about the great 2-hour accomplishment, and that "we mean it, now! Give us your name and tell us what you need!"

There are soldiers out there busting their asses in desert heat, missing their families, and checking empty mailboxes.

We can't have that.

I have names. I have addresses. I have suggestions.

Hit me up. I'll help you help.