Group Collects Valentines for Troops
By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2006 After collecting and sending more than 900 pounds of candy for Christmas, Keystone Soldiers missed no time in kicking off their Valentine drive on Jan. 5.
Erisa and Joshua Sloan work on their Valentines Day project for the Keystone Soldiers nonprofit organization to send to those deployed. Their father, Army 1st Lt. Eric Sloan, recently returned from Iraq, so they know the importance of keeping in touch. Photo by Lisa Sloan
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The nonprofit organization, based in Fleetwood, Pa., has partnered with Boscov's department stores in a drive to collect valentines for deployed servicemembers.
The campaign, called "Collection of Hearts," will continue at all 40 Boscov's stores until Feb. 5.
"We want them to know that just because Christmas is over, they're still not forgotten," said Kyle Lord, director of Keystone Soldiers. "They're in our hearts."
Lord said that the organization started off small as a Web-based information forum, but sending care packages to troops has become an ever-bigger venture.
"For a small organization, it's a big project, and every year it has continued to get bigger," she said.
People interested in sending valentines to deployed servicemembers through Keystone Soldiers can either stop by Boscov's department stores or send packages directly to Keystone Soldiers. The final date for mail submissions is Jan. 30, while Boscov's will accept Valentines cards and candy at all 40 stores' courtesy desks until Feb. 5.
The "Collection of Hearts" Valentine drive is part of a continual effort to remind America's deployed troops that they are loved, Lord said. To that end, Keystone Soldiers ships care packages every week.
"Just because there is no holiday going on doesn't mean that people cannot show their support by sending items for care packages or donating money for postage," she said. "We don't work just on special occasions."
Lord founded the organization when her son Brent, a Pennsylvania National Guardsman, deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in early 2002.
Over the past four years, the organization has grown from a simple forum to an award-winning troop and family supporter, having received the Golden Web Award of Excellence, the Military World Top Honors Award, and several humanitarian awards.
Keystone Soldiers' efforts continue to expand. Their "Shoes for Kids" program collects shoes, socks and school supplies for distribution to children in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo, touching over 10,000 children to date. The group also took the lead in an effort to bring a refrigerator to a day care center in Kosovo.
"We believe our troops' humanitarian mission is as important as any mission they do," Lord said.
Keystone Soldiers is a partner in the America Supports You program that showcases efforts to support U.S. servicemembers and their families.