Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Packages to Soldiers, 2012 Wrap Up

I'm a little late with this post, but it's mostly due to spending the last week or so wrapping up loose ends to what turned out to be a FANTASTIC wrapping and packing event for our soldier babies.

As there is no RSVP for these events, I'm always anxious about what the turnout will be; it's simply unknown...until we know! Slated to start at 1:00, we had 6 or 7 people in attendance at 5 'til. Same at 1:00, and at 1:05. I had a quick, sick feeling when suddenly:

That's kind of how it was.

There was sorting and wrapping:

Stuffing of stockings:

And packing of boxes:

The boxes were tidied and filled with tinsel, then topped off with precious letters from children in Homer and Mahomet, IL, and from Enterprise, Florida (see, I TOLD you that you can help from anywhere!).

One of my favorite vets, Dave Martin, stopped by with a hefty check from the Thank You Veteran's Run. Dave represents at all of our events!

And our last stop, the next day: The post office. Here's a very frazzled Donna, our postal clerk extraordinaire. Even though we called ahead and emailed ahead, and Facebooked ahead, someone at the post office got transferred to another station at the last minute, and they were a little short-staffed.

Most people were understanding, or at least soothed with the homemade cookies we brought to appease them, but there were a few that crabbed at the two poor remaining clerks as if it were their fault.

Oh, and there was one near cat-fight when one lady told another lady to shut her yap, and that if it took FIVE HOURS to process the boxes going to our troops, then they should all damn-well stand in line for 5 hours and be happy about it!! Ooo! That was exciting!

But it was mostly lovely. People did, as they always do when we are taking this many boxes to the post office, hand me cash. It touches me every single time, strangers handing me cash, asking if they can pay for a box, or if they can help.

My favorite part of the post office trip is visiting with Veterans. Older gentlemen leaning on canes as they wait, laughing and reminiscing with us and with each other about care packages they received from their mothers. It is almost always their mothers I hear about, and I think about how young they were when they were in Korea, or Vietnam.

They laugh about the delicious boxes of cookie crumbs they devoured, and how much the letters meant to them then. Their boxes and letters clearly mean as much to them now as they did then, and their reminiscing reinforces everything we do: You know the efforts of this community and these events are still going to be remembered somewhere in this world in the year 2062.

To all of you that continued to work for our troops, to schlep out in holiday crowds and shop for them, to bake homemade cookies and write them letters, and to donate your hard-earned cash to make sure that everyone on our list had a really great Christmas box: 

Thank you.

From every fiber of my being, Thank you.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Spaghetti Dinner Wrap Up

Aurgh, so much to tell, so little time! I'm distraught that time constraints prevent me from telling it all properly, but I'm still here to give you the highlights.

The Spaghetti & the Pasta!

Rob Meister, of Minneci's Italian Ristorante went above and beyond with the spaghetti. And the fettucine alfredo...and the pasta with pesto sauce...AND the pasta arrabiata. All with bread and parmesan, and it was endless; every last person was fed, and fed well. I can't tell you how many times during the evening I heard how great the food was.

If you don't already know it, Rob is running for State Representative; go check him out here!

The Music!

Asking ThreeBird to play was one of the best decisions I made about the entire event; I have no idea what I'd have done to keep people present and entertained when they were done eating. ThreeBird, featuring Jammin' Jimmy Bean, Jesse Frances, and Dave Cooper definitely kept the audience captivated, and this event was more successful as a result of their playing for us that night. The crowd was wow'd, and Clint and I have already discussed future outdoor home concerts at the country casa.

Not to be overlooked, and represented in all of these photos, of course, is Bob Osiek, the Esquire Lounge, and all of the staff at the Esquire. The venue was given to us for nothing, and with bottomless free pasta, I imagine they sacrificed a few burger and pizza sales for us that night. The staff was incredibly accommodating, offering to help out wherever they were needed.

I suddenly have an idea of what it's like to dragged off the stage with a shepherds hook, on an awards show, for carrying on and on while you try to give everyone credit. There were so many that stepped up again. People that show up and work for us and do nice things, and I can't think of anything I've ever done nice for them, except to accept their services.

And oh! The guests that showed up and gave so generously, I can't thank you enough for reaching into your pockets for us. We made $4000 that Sunday night, and when it was all said and done, one thing kept occurring to me: I never directly asked anyone for money. While it was a given that the event was a FUNDraiser, I never wrote letters asking for money (well, one, but I was told to). I didn't ask you to empty your bank accounts. I didn't charge you for Minneci's spaghetti.

I didn't have to.

I didn't have to ask because you care, and you understand. And in every letter I write to every soldier I meet, or will perhaps never meet, I stress to them how much you care. How you leave your comfortable homes, and you gather to support them. I tell them, "Soldier, I'm not kidding; people just give me money to take care of you. So tell me what we can do."

Ok, friends, they're giving me the "wrap it up" cue, and it's time for me to get moving on the Christmas event. (Ahem. It's December 4.) I can't thank you enough, I really cannot.

This is a CAKE, made by one of our sponsors,
Buffy Vance, of Madeline's Confectionary.

Former soldier (airman) baby and now vet
Jeremy Jay rocks the Free Hugs apron.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Spaghetti Dinner October 23

Toys for Troops Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser
October 23, 2011
Esquire Lounge, Champaign, IL
4:30-9:00 p.m.
Spaghetti provided by Minneci's Italian Ristorante
Music by ThreeBird Acoustic Trio

Raffle items are listed below. Each item will be raffled off separately—you will be able to "vote" for what you'd like to win. If you're after the Cheese & crackers, buy your tickets and put all of them in the cheese and cracker box. If you want to go the grab bag route, mix your tickets up. You need not be present to win.




NOOK E-reader + cover with book light

Sephora cosmetics & skin care $600 VALUE

Illinois v. Michigan Football Tickets (& parking pass) Nov. 12, 2011

Illinois v. Loyola-Chicago Basketball tickets (& parking pass) Nov. 11, 2011

Huge basket of TRADER JOE’S sundries: gourmet food and wine

Cheese & Crackers Deli at Old Farm: Meat & Cheese tray for 12 ($75 value)

Maia Roman Spa, Urbana: Gift certificate for 30-minute massage

Bodi Bronze gift certificate

Triple T Oil & Lube--3 gift certificates

Crave Truck:  3 gift certificates for 2 “Hot Mess” Waffles & 2 coffee

Jarlings Custard Cup: $25 gift certificate

Madeline's Confectionary Arts Studio: Cake decorating lesson ($75 value)

Boltini's Lounge:  $25 Gift certificate x 2

Woodours  Activity Teddy Bear from Checkered Moon, at Old Farm

Circles Boutique $50 gift certificate for women's clothing, shoes, and accessories

Dandelion Vintage men and women's clothing, new and used accessories$25 gift certificate

Jane Addams Book store: 2,  $25 gift certficates

Handmade Illini Totebag, by Carrie Kingston

Basket of hair products and supplies, by Carrie Kingston

Mocha Momma $25 Gift certificate

Ippatsu Salon: 3, $40 gift certificates for haircut

Cabot, Vermont: Gift pack of 8 blocks of cheese

Ultimate Upholstery $130 gift certificate for carpet cleaning

Armored Gopher Games--$25 gift certificate

Flooring Depot: 2'2" x 7'5" runner area rug

ARMY basket, souvenirs from Ft. Hood, TX 

2 copies of When We Went to WarInterviews with scores of World War II veterans and others from East Central Illinois. Originally published as a huge special section of the newspaper on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, we've made it into a book as the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor approaches. Terrific writing by Greg Kline and Phil Bloomer, lots of pictures. It will sell for $24.99 when it goes on sale.  

Savoy Recreation Center: Parent's Night

Eastland Suites Hotel & Conference Center: Overnight Stay 


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser

Toys for Troops Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser
October 23, 2011
Esquire Lounge, Champaign, IL
4:30-9:00 p.m.
Spaghetti provided by Minneci's Italian Ristorante
Music by ThreeBird Acoustic Trio
Raffle Tickets with great door prizes, & 50/50 


Toys for Troops' last all-out fundraising event was in 2007.  I intend to write about what is involved in putting this fundraiser together.

First in order was securing time, date, venue, spaghetti, and music. I was nervous, but the hurdles  were mental—the first 3 people I approached said, in this order, "Yes," "Yes," and "Yes." Whoo hoo!

Next on the agenda is spreading the word.
It's amateur-hour on the advertising front. I am frugal with this organization's money.  I've designed and written all of the literature. I hacked out a newsletter that friends proofread for me. Bright green paper for $12, ink for $40, and 500 posters were printed at home. I had credit on the books at a discount printing house, so postcards were printed for next-to-nothing. I own my own laminator, and will take care of that with my own money. Gas and hours are on my dime too. I put this out there so that you know, for sure, where your donations are going: To Support the Troops! 

I also tell you to reiterate that I can't do this without you.  With a minimal advertising budget, our success really does depend on your help and your word-of-mouth. If you can tack up a poster, make a donation, spread the word to someone who can donate a gift certificate, I need you.

Posters have been printed. If you would also like to hand out or post a poster, contact me!

Postcards for vendors/donators are being delivered today, to use as a calling card when I go door-to-door, asking the nice people of this community to donate a gift certificate or two to the cause.
There are some that I'll have to tack a stamp to, but I'd really rather look you right in the eye and ask.

I also like to remind you: It doesn't matter where you are. Whether you're right by my side in this town, or if you're on the other side of the country, you can help.  Email me at if you want to know how, or if you have any questions. I'll try to do frequent updates here!

Yeehaw, we have work to do, people!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

They Keep Going, and Going...

My soldier babies, that is. Word is that they're all coming home, but they keep going and going and going to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jerrica, one of my first Toys for Troops supporters, is waiting in Kuwait in 121-degree heat to begin her second tour in Iraq. Pictured on the right, she told me in a quick Facebook chat today that she can't wait to get home.

I attended a going away party for my friend Laura's son, Maxwell, a few months ago.

 He's serving in Afghanistan right now.

  • A California friend added 30 to my mailing list in April.
  • A young friend in ROTC has given me a few more addresses.
  • One officer has 27 guys that would like beanie babies.
  • I received a letter today from another in Afghanistan that works in an area that has 8000 kids. They swarm him every day for toys.
Brian worked the airport at the base last night, sending off 600 of his, to Iraq. The mood was grim, he said, because "by morning they'll be in Germany and Kuwait." He sent me photos throughout the evening. The first read: "I do not miss this."

And this one, with the message: "He's writing a letter to his wife. Old school."

A few more, of them waiting, and this one, with a text: "Prayer."

And finally, this one.

1 army base.  1 evening. 2 planes. 600 soldiers. Away from home for 1 year.

At this point, Brian is still using his "Dwell Time," finally fully granted. There's a chance he will not deploy after all, this year, and maybe for the next. It's almost too much for me to believe. I talked to him this morning, and he admitted that last night was a tough night. "There was a lot of emotion in the room," he told me.

There's a pit in my stomach, because I know this. I know there's been a final goodbye. I know cell phones still allow some contact, some last minute I love yous, and text messages read "still waiting," "heading for the plane," and "will be in touch ASAP."  I know the phones will then probably be put away for the next year, and the next word will come from Germany, through email and Facebook. It might be tomorrow. It might be a couple of days.

And, with a sudden sense of panic, I know I have to get busy.

I got soldier babies overseas, and I got some motherin' to do.