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Group Sends Care Packages, Support to Deployed Troops

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 6, 2004 – It all started when Army Spc. Robert Collins called his mother from Afghanistan to thank her for his care package and ask that she send more for some of his buddies who weren't getting goodies from home.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Gladys Walker prepares to make a run to the post office to ship care packages to the troops through the Have a Heart/Adopt a Soldier organization. Courtesy photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Horrified that a deployed U.S. service member might feel forgotten and unappreciated by the American public, Gladys Walker started what has snowballed into the Have a Heart/Adopt a Soldier organization.

First, Walker started assembling a few extra care packages. Then she and her husband began dipping into their retirement savings to fund their increasingly frequent shopping ventures for the troops. Soon letters from military chaplains started pouring in, with lists of service members in their units who were getting nothing from home: no letters, no goodie boxes, no reminder of America's gratitude for their service.

Walker catapulted into fifth gear, devoting 20 hours a day to fundraising, recruiting sponsors and volunteers, purchasing goodies ranging from baby wipes to chewing gum, and wrapping and shipping packages for troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in Southwest Asia. Her latest venture, custom- designed bumper stickers, is expected to raise more money to help fund the enterprise, along with current sales of car magnets, T-shirts and other items and fundraisers ranging from bake sales to walkathons.

"The response has been overwhelming," she said. From around the country, checks, items for care packages and letters for the troops continue to roll in to Walker's Malone, N.Y., home.

On a given week, Have a Heart/Adopt a Soldier ships about 200 care packages to deployed troops. Along with comfort items like bug spray and treats like beef jerky, she tucks inside as many boxes as possible what she considers the most important item of all: letters of encouragement. "What our troops need the most is to know that the American people haven't forgotten about them and support them," she said.

Yet the need continues. Walker said she has a list of 100 deployed troops in need of sponsors.

"I wish you could see the faces of the soldiers who receive these packages," a chaplain wrote Walker. "It truly makes their day."

Just as the donations and requests for care packages roll in, so, too, do the thank-you notes, she said. Most service members who write tell Walker they're proud of what they're doing. Some lean on her shoulder, admitting that they're sometimes scared, particularly when they hear mortar fire.

But all tell Walker how much it means to them to know that the American public is behind them.

"It has to be terribly hard, being in a foreign land, in the heat, with bullets flying past you," she said. "It's not the individual items we're sending that mean the most. It's what they communicate: that the American people believe in you and thank you for your service," she said.

For more information about Have a Heart/Adopt a Soldier, visit the organization's Web site, e-mail soldier2@localnet.com or call (518) 481-5126.

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