Friday, December 3, 2010

Christmas Gifts to Soldiers Eve-Eve

Goodness gracious, it's here, it's upon us!

Toys for Troops
Christmas Gifts to Soldiers

Village Inn Pizza Parlor
Champaign, IL 61821

Sunday December 6, 2010

I haven't pushed this event very much on my blog this year, but I've still been working in the background to make it happen, Sunday afternoon. I'm not sure where the time goes; I'm constantly writing blogposts in my head, but it seems they get tucked away at day's end.

Anyway, it's happening! Our mailing list is smaller this year, but it went from 2 to 60 in the last 4 weeks. We're hoping to send 2 to every soldier.

Our local paper, The News Gazette, has been a great friend and supporter since this organization started, and I can't thank them enough for highlighting us in their paper 3 times since Veteran's Day. A little nudge here and there to the community to shop for a soldier, or to contact me for more info has been invaluable.

The community has rallied, and I remain in wonder at those folks that read those articles, pull out their checkbooks, seal an envelope and send us money. I can't overlook a donation that came to us through the newspaper, made by the Central Illinois Unit Marine Corps League Auxiliary. I opened an envelope last Friday afternoon that had a $500 check in it, with a note that said they'd read about us in the paper. This is another moment in which you'd think that cartwheels would be your response, but really, all you can do is sit down and stare, and wonder at how nice people are, and how much they care.

Yes, the community has rallied. They've asked for our flyer to print and hang in their offices and churches, and I'm getting phone calls every day about where to drop off donations. My car is full, my dining room is full, and I have notes and messages about more rolling in this weekend.

Our Annual Customs Forms party was Wednesday night at The Esquire. I supplied pens, forms, and beverages.* Elves supplied the handwriting.

It was a fun evening. We were all tripped up over the "newfangled" customs forms, and they might not be quite perfect in every way. Some first names are first, and as long as I've been doing this, I'm still not sure of what is what on a military address, so the zip codes might appear in the state line. There is one from "Stewart (COMMA) Jeremy" because Jeremy just started putting down his own information.

The forms demand to know just how many of what is enclosed in each box, and we got kind of general. "Snacks and DVDs and socks," they wrote. By the end of the night the elves got a little loopy and started to make up a few other donations. Some soldier out there is going to be sorely disappointed when he doesn't find a silk tie in his or her box. We assume the real contents will make up for the lack of enclosed neckware.

This organization touches my life in so many ways. I worry, sometimes, that I'll be come tedious with tales; at the same time, the most amazing things still happen on somewhat regular basis, that I just have to tell it. For example, it isn't every day that someone crosses a parking lot to ask me about the sign on the side of my car, and then hand me cash, but it happens. I don't meant it just happened once, I mean it happens.

Today, an elderly woman from another county called me. She was on a fixed income and couldn't give much, she said. She also didn't have the means to shop, or to deliver a donation for the event. But could she send a check for $10?

$10 is beautiful, I told her. $10 will send an entire box of goodies to a soldier. SHE will send an entire box of goodies to a soldier, and her $10 will change the direction of someone's day, someone's quite-possibly-lousy day. And I told her that my kid just came home, and he tells me firsthand how much those boxes mean.

 I love the $1s, and the $5s and the $10s every bit as much as I love the $100s and the $500s.

So, the event is 2 days away, and I'm anxious. I never know what's going to happen on Sunday. Will people tire of donating? Will we meet our goal? I pour over the budget, and try to do you proud with your donation money, shopping wisely, setting aside enough for shipping, and saving an emergency fund, in the event that we don't fill enough boxes for every soldier on our list. (Oh, we will send a box to every soldier.)

Also, a surprise. I've been a tad bummed that Brian's one-month leave was going to put him in this berg by....December 7. He'd miss the event by 1 day, how much did that suck?

I was deeply concentrating at work today when it was pointed out to me by coworker Kurt that someone was waiting to see me. I jumped, expecting to find the UPS guy standing behind me...


Nothing against the UPS guy, but this was WAY better! Brian! Brian is here! He will be here for a Toys for Troops event! My kid! My kid that got one of those boxes last year! He isn't there! He is HERE!  ::dance dance dance::

And just for old times' sake, to make him feel completely at home, I'm gonna put that boy to work.

See you Sunday!

*Please rest assured that your donations are not in any way dispensed in the feeding (or beveraging) of Toys for Troops Elves.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Christmas Gifts to Soldiers

DECEMBER 5, 2010
1:00 to 4:00 p.m. 

1801 W. Springfield Ave., Champaign, IL


  • Gift cards to online companies that ship to APO addresses (,,, etc)
  • CDs/DVDs
  • Phone cards (good from Iraq)
  • Handheld electronic games
  • Current Magazines
  • Small board games
  • Coozies for bottles and cans
  • Tan, green, or black t-shirts
  • Black or tan mechanics gloves
  • Boot-length socks
  • Small white ankle socks (female)
  • Med/sm black cotton underwear (female) 
  • Shower gels (male/female)
  • Sunglasses
  • Times watches
  • AA batteries
  • Leatherman/Gerber tools
  • Metal-bodied flashlights and headlamps
  • Home made cookies or gourmet snack items
  • Anything you can think of for a male or female soldier to open on Christmas morning.

    If you can't make it to the event, you can still drop off donations at Village Inn anytime between now and the event.

    If you can't deliver, we can schedule a pick-up. E-mail me at

    If you're not "from around here," you can still participate! 
    Families from all over the United States are joining us to send Christmas gifts, letters, and goodies to soldiers. E-mail for a name & address, and some mailing tips! 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lincoln Trail School Rocks! Grand Total: $3300.00

(Photo by Sharon Frick)

What a day, what a wonderful day.

Lincoln Trail School, year after year, does a phenomenal job of honoring our Veterans. It is their biggest project of the year, and it shows. Hundreds of veterans attend. There is music. There are videos of children  interviewing veterans—Korean War Veterans were highlighted this year. Bagpipes play while we remember lost soldiers, and a chilling rendition of Taps is played from two buglers in opposite corners of the gym. And each year, my seat finds me listening to the Star Spangled Banner with the gruff voice of older veterans in one ear, and Boy Scouts' voices, like bells, in the other.

I woke up, this morning, feeling particularly emotional. I'm not altogether sure why, I just was. These children, they had done so much. The local TV station had slipped and given away the amount of the donation to be awarded to me: $1800! Doh! I knew they wanted it to be a secret, but now I knew.

$1800 would get us through the years' end, where I can then get things in order and focus on fund raising in Spring '11. We'll get by, we always do.

But still. $1800 is a LOT of money, and I just teared up every time I thought of it. And I got busy thinking of the notes I'd received from soldiers that have received our boxes, and contemplating that my own son is home from Iraq, oh, my God, he was in Iraq! It still shocks me, sometimes.

I was just in a mood this morning. Feeling emotional and blessed, and amazed, once again, at the kindness of other people. These kids, and the staff, they just did this for me. They asked me if they could do this. I tried to practice my little thank you speech in the car, but every time I got to "I received an e-mail from a soldier that we sent boxes to..." or, "my own son just arrived home from Iraq," I started bawling. I switched from speech-practicing to chiding myself: "Buckle UP, girl! You can't go up there and start crying, you'll scare those kids half to death!"

So I buckled up. I did. But then there was the Anthem, and the bagpipes, and Taps, for heck-sake, and I got to sit with the distinguished members of the Color Guard. And those kids, and the interviews with the veterans...boy, they chipped away at my resolve, but I was fine.

And then it was my turn, and an articulate young man got on stage and spoke of their fundraising endeavours, while 3 other children untied and unrolled a giant check, made out to Toys for Troops:

Twenty-three hundred, ninety-three dollars, and seventy-eight cents.

Not $1800.00. As I remember, the wind was knocked right out of me, and then I burst into tears. Yes, yes, that's exactly what I did, but I had a minute to compose myself as a member of the Color Guard took the stage, and presented me with another $100 to add to the total.

I started out my little speech by informing the audience that I was feeling a bit emotional, which was an absolutely unnecessary opening statement. My hands were shaking, my voice was shaking, and I think that I told them they were amazing for having quadrupled their goal, before I read SPC Josh Hanks' note to them, and told them that one SPC Brian Jolley had reported back to Fort Benning yesterday, so he missed the program by one day, but said to tell them hello. It was something like that, I think, that I said.

I got back to my seat, still choked up and shaking from stage fright, when the third-graders broke into My Country Tis of Thee. As I tried to calm myself, the white-haired veteran sitting next to me, a member of the color guard, reached over and took my hand. My right hand, in his white-cotton-gloved left, and he held it tight for the entire song. I was instantly calmed.

And, it was just a wonderful, wonderful day, did I say that already?

What I haven't told you yet is that there was a bit of cash and a few more checks in the envelope from Lincoln Trail, and I received an additional $700 in outside donations for this project.

Together, we raised $3300.00 for Toys for Troops, and added 47 names and addresses to our mailing list. Our soldiers are covered for the holidays, and well into the next year. We are, quite simply, afloat because of these children, their teachers, and the staff of Lincoln Trail School.

And now, I've run out of anything to say, but Thank You.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Oh, and one more thing, I'll announce it again tomorrow:



1:00, DECEMBER 5, 2011.

Get your cookies, socks, DVDs, and various gifties ready for wrapping, packing, taping, and shipping. Details to come.

Thank you again.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A George for a G.I.

Veteran's Day is Thursday, and once again we're working with the students at Lincoln Trail Elementary School for their Veteran's Day project.

I have a little secret: When they contacted me to help me out a month or so ago, I turned them down. I regretfully informed them that Toys for Troops has 2 immediate tasks at hand: 1) Rebuilding our mailing list and 2) Fundraising.

We're low on soldiers—last years' list has come home. And we're low on money; we felt the financial pinch of the last couple of years along with the rest of the country. I pointed out in a recent newsletter that we're proud to have stretched the initial $3K of donations to last 4 years; most of our events covered themselves, financially, allowing us to keep shopping and mailing throughout the year. Last year's mailing events, however, were almost completely out-of-pocket for TFT, and although we still have a balance in our account, there's not enough left to send Thanksgiving boxes this year, and November would be spent raising money to get Holiday boxes out.

I am sorry, I told them. Sadly, we cannot work with you this year.

Sniff. I thought that was the end of it, but I got an e-mail back the next morning. What if we earned some money for you? What if every kid brings one dollar? What if we hold a bake sale and an auction, and we give all the money to Toys for Troops?

Lord, I just teared up writing that. They did, though, they've been bringing in funds for Toys for Troops! They started a campaign called Bring a George for a G.I. They're baking and they're selling, they are working their little backsides off for our soldiers!

These kids motivated ME to get it in gear too! I got our newsletter out. I've encouraged the folks on our mailing list to send in their own donations to add to Lincoln Trails' totals, and I've had donations roll into our PayPal count. Our mailing list has increased from 2 soldiers to 50 soldiers.

And they're each going to get holiday boxes from us. 

There are 2 more days to help these kids help us! Here's how:
  • Send a donation to Nicci Miller, c/o Lincoln Trail School, 102 E. State Street, Mahomet, IL. 
  • Click on the PayPal button on the sidebar of this page, or at
  • Forward this post or these links to anyone that has a deployed soldier in their life, so that we can add them to our mailing list
  • If you're not on our e-newsletter list, sign up at, or email me at for a copy of the last one.

And get ready to gear up for Holiday Boxes, to be mailed a month from now. (Event to be announced soon!)

I'll see these kids Thursday morning, and tell you how it goes!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Foreseen Subject: My Soldier Babies and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Prologue Post

If you're weary, it may not be from what you're doing. Your weariness could be caused by what you continue to put off doing. Having an uncompleted task hanging over you, day after day, week after week, wears on you constantly. To free yourself from that burden, go ahead and get it finished.

Wise words posted by my friend Lynellen have motivated me to free myself from a burden. Or at least, to start talking about a subject that weighs heavily on me.

You know I knew it was coming. Being a worrying Mother, I've steeled myself to deal with this issue probably since the day Brian enlisted, when I was still selfishly, naively hoping that he'd end up with some pencil-pushing job in a closet-sized office somewhere out in the sticks (on U.S. soil, of course).

Some news reports about these wars are unbearable to me at times, and I'll admit to not being able to handle it and turning the television off for my own sanity. It is always with a deep sense of guilt, as I know that there's a family out there that is living with, or dying with, what I can shut out.

Still, I watch and read the articles, stories, and documentaries on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the issues that our men and women have to deal with when they come home. I think that most of us have probably dealt with some avenue of  post-stress. I think about times in my own life when I've reacted to an event well after the fact.

  • I have shaken like a leaf a week after my son was in a life-threatening accident, falling 2 stories to large landscaping rocks beneath the waterslide.
  • Amusing now, but two years after my divorce, I got stuck, home alone, in my attic, and dealt with it by having a screaming tantrum directed at my ex-husband. After all, if we'd worked things out, I wouldn't have been stuck in the damned attic hole with a giant piece of plywood lodged between me and the ladder, would I? It was all his fault, and I couldn't have been more surprised to find that out!
  • While sis and Mom fell apart at Dad's death, I held it together to take care of all of the business and legal aspects of his life, his death and finances, and rental properties and tenants. 6 months after it was all settled, I crashed, becoming so numb and sleepy that it took walking into a moving car to alert me to the fact that I needed to see a doctor.

I know that these are everyday events, that happen, eventually, to almost everyone. There are accidents, and deaths, and disappointments and crises in everyone's life, as natural order. My reflections on my own minor-serious post-dealings only serve to put into perspective the magnitude of what our soldiers are coming home with.

Three years into starting an organization that rotates around happy little plush toys, I am beginning to talk to and meet more and more soldiers that are sharing stories about their PTSD issues, and about their deployments. I have corresponded with injured soldiers, some briefly and some at-length. I've passed names on to others that want to help, and have lost contact with a few still important to me. I am, for the first time, hearing their stories, stories they are telling, also, for the first time.

It has taken me months to start writing about this, I simply have not been able to find the words, or the mood.

I have, at the recommendation of one, been reading a book that is issued to many soldiers upon coming home, to prepare them for future issues, Down Range: To Iraq and Back, by Bridget Cantrell and Chuck Dean. It's taking me too long to get through the 150-page book, because I can only read a few paragraphs before I hyperventilate.

It's taking me months to write about something that has never happened to me.

I can very well understand how it takes them months or years to deal with, discuss, acknowledge what they've been through. I can also understand why some never do.

And I still know very little, but I'm going to write it. Because it wears on me. It wears on me that I have friends dealing with horrific issues, and it wears on me that my son is in a war zone, and experiencing issues from his first tour. And it wears on me that people are afraid to get help.

Mostly it wears on me that I haven't been one more voice, however small, on one more issue that needs to be screamed from the rooftops.

It's a burden I need to unload. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Soldier Baby Meets the Prez

3 years or so ago, when I was just establishing Toys for Troops, I received this e-mail from a young lady in the area:
My name is Jerrica Kuebler, and I have quite a few Beanie Babies I would like to give to you, if you're still collecting them. I'm actually in the process of joining the army, and will be leaving for basic training at the end of September. So if I could meet with you to give you the Beanie Babies before then, that would be great. 
I met her shortly thereafter. A petite, beautiful girl, I'll admit to being stunned at the idea that this one was going to bootcamp. She was the first young woman I'd met that had enlisted, and in the 5 minutes or so that I spoke to her before I bid her Good Luck and encouraged her to keep in touch, I developed a weird maternal ache. I know what it's like to send a son off to bootcamp. To send a daughter? This little thing, a soldier?

I lost track of her when she took off, and then got another e-mail from her a year later:
I met you along time ago when you were collecting Beanie Babies. I am now in the Army. [...] me and my roommate would each like to get a soldier's name and address to send them a care package. If you could please get back with me at your earliest convenience.
First she gives me beanies, then she's sending care packages...and then she herself was deployed, to Afghanistan. She was kind enough to send me the names of several of her colleagues, and they made up the majority of our female soldier babies on this year's care package mailing list.

She's nearing the end of her tour, counting down the days. It sounds like she's ready to come home, and yet, had one hell of a last hurrah this week:

You know, when my family, my friends, my soldier-babies do something amazing, or when they are something amazing, I just can't help being so darned proud and happy.

This was an exciting day for an amazing lady, and I hope Mr. President realizes, someday, who he just shook hands with.