Cottage Grove-area overseas troop care initiative moves into 10th year
Sending care packages to troops serving overseas has become a monthly routine for three organizations in south Washington County—a routine that celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
In 2003, Linda Lehrke, a Cottage Grove resident and mother of five sons, three of whom are in the military, gathered a few friends together to send a care package to a soldier overseas.
“My son Karl, who was serving in Iraq, started it,” Lehrke said recently. “He mentioned that one member of his unit never received any mail from home and ‘wouldn’t it be nice if you sent him a box of goodies.’”
Since then Lehrke’s group of friends who call themselves, “A Touch of Home,” has met once a month at Crossroads Church in Woodbury to pack boxes for many soldiers. At the height of their mission, ATOH was mailing more than 55 boxes a month. That number has dropped to 16.
Mavis Holzinger, a member of the Cottage Grove VFW Post 8752 Auxiliary, has led a similar mission since 2007.
“Three years ago we were mailing more than 20 boxes a month, now we’re down to one or two,” she said. Over the years, she has mailed more than 450 boxes.
At American Legion Post 98 in St. Paul Park, the women’s auxiliary is mailing seven or eight boxes a month, down from 25 to 45 three years ago.
“We’ll keep doing it until we run out of names or all our guys are home,” said Lynn Duffy, auxiliary president. “As long as there’s a need, we’ll fill it.
“It’s worth all the work and fundraising,” she continued. “Especially when someone who received a box comes into the Legion Hall to say thanks, or we receive a card saying ‘I don’t know who you are, but thanks for the box.’”
Lehrke recalls the letter from a young troop in Afghanistan. He wrote: “Thank you. When I thought humanity was on a steady decline you reminded me that there are still good people out there. I’ve received a couple packages and ruined my appetite with some junk food which I enjoyed very much.”
Another trooper wrote to ATOH, “Believe it or not, the Gummy bears, homemade bread and homemade cool wraps went like wildfire. We are thankful there are support groups back home who remember us.”
The ongoing project has stretched the resources of all three groups. They depend on donations from individuals and regular fundraisers.
“At every function, we put out a jar with a sign ‘To Support the Troops,’” Duffy said. When funds are low, the auxiliary designates all the proceeds from one of its six breakfast buffets to troop packages.
Holzinger said donations for troops come mainly from post members, while at A Touch of Home, support has come from the community as well as groups in Wisconsin, Minneapolis and Hastings.
“People hear about ATOH mostly by word of mouth,” Lehrke said. “We have 50 to 60 people who volunteer to pack boxes every month; most have been very faithful. They spread the word that we need donations and help.”
Those groups include the Yellow Ribbon Alliance of the Lower St. Croix Valley, the Young Conservative Club at River Falls High School, RSVP-VISTA Volunteers of America, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon of Hastings and American Legion 4th District.
All three groups are preparing for the holidays when they send homemade cookies and breads. At the Legion, they send double boxes and add tiny Christmas decorations.
To make a donation to A Touch of Home, visit the website at www.atouchofhome.us. Packing is scheduled the second Saturday of the month at Crossroads Church, 5900 Woodbury Drive, in Woodbury. For details, email Lehrke at firstname.lastname@example.org. Names of overseas military personnel can be added to the list at the ATOH website.
To learn more about the mission at the Cottage Grove VFW, call Mavis Holzinger at (651) 459-2372. Holzinger will also accept names of troops to receive boxes.
At the American Legion, 328 Broadway Ave. in St. Paul Park, donations can be given to the bartender. Packing takes place the first Thursday of the month. For details and a list of care box items needed, call former auxiliary president Sharon Boggess at 651-459-4682.
If you go
A Touch of Home is holding its 10th anniversary fundraiser under the tent at the corner of Jamaica Avenue and 80th Street in Cottage Grove from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28 and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29.
Volunteers will be serving grilled brats, cheddar-brats, hot dogs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, pulled pork, chips and beverages, with meat from Bonngard’s Family Meats in Cottage Grove.
Everyone is invited to attend, have a brat and read through the albums of notes and letters written to ATOH from troops.