Shop Owner Turns Bad Luck into Good Luck for Troops
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 19, 2004 When tragedy struck Ruth Ann Young of Kirkland, Wash., during the summer of 2003, she turned her bad luck into good luck for more than 6,000 service members on the battlefields of Iraq.
Posing with the Raytheon Program Achievement Awards plaque
for the Armed Services YMCA's Best Use of Volunteers category are, left to
right, Bob London, Raytheon's director of administration; Diane M. Hardy,
chair, Junction City (Kan.) Family YMCA board of directors; Ruth Ann Young,
creator of "Operation Iraq: Spirit of Christmas" and owner and operator of the
Spirit of Christmas shop in Kirkland, Wash.; and Daniel L. Smith, president of
Raytheon's Integrated Defense Systems. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
It was Father's Day 2003 June 15 -- when fire ravaged a business next door to Young's "Spirit of Christmas" store and caused substantial smoke damage to her little shop. Young owns and operates a year-round shop devoted to selling Christmas items. Smoke damage to her merchandise was so bad that she wasn't able to open her shop for the rest of that year.
Though she was deeply saddened, she wanted to do something positive in the community in which she and her husband, Robert Young, had lived for eight years, Young said during the Armed Services YMCA's recent 17th Annual Recognition Luncheon on Capitol Hill. Her idea won the 2004 Raytheon Program Achievement Award in the Best Use of Volunteers category at the Junction City (Kan.) Family YMCA.
"I wanted to touch the hearts of my service people overseas, and that's what I chose to do," said Young, who was in Washington with her husband and representatives from the Junction City YMCA and Fort Riley, Kan., to accept the award. "So I hung a banner and told everyone we were doing 'Operation Iraq: Spirit of Christmas' and we were going to send packages overseas to all of our military troops for Christmas."
Telling everybody she wanted to send at least 1,000 Christmas boxes to soldiers in Iraq, Young said she secretly set her goal at 5,000 boxes. And to her delight, she got a lot more.
Young and her supporters in Kirkland created a Web site and advertised their goals any way they could. Then the stuff started coming in: reading material, compact discs, lip balm, beef jerky, peanuts, trail mix, eye drops and a host of other things.
"And," she asked with a laugh, "would you believe 30,000 bags of apple chips?"
More than $200,000 in merchandise was donated, and nearly 21,000 volunteer hours were logged in support of the project.
Young's only request was that the boxes go to the service members on the front lines. She wanted commanders to ensure that everyone who didn't get anything for Christmas received a gift.
"It was the spirit of Kirkland, Wash., that stood up to the plate and touched the hearts of our military," Young said.
After getting thousands of boxes of gifts for the troops ready, "How do I get them there?" was the daunting question Young asked herself.
"Them" was more than 6,000 boxes weighing more than 6 pounds each two 18- wheeler trailers full of goodies for service members on the battlefields of Iraq. "There" was more than 1,800 miles from Kirkland to the Junction City Family YMCA that serves Fort Riley.
Diane E. Hardy, the Junction City YMCA's chair of the board of directors, who attended the Capitol Hill ceremony, explained how the huge number of boxes made the long trip. "This was a spiritual journey for the hundreds of people who were involved in this. God had a big place in this. It took on a life of its own," said Hardy, wife of Army Maj. Gen. Dennis E. Hardy, commander of Fort Riley.
Hardy said that after being unable to find someone in or around Kirkland to transport the boxes, "Ruth Ann contacted Ted Hayden, who is our local YMCA director in Junction City, Kan. The Armed Services YMCA comes under the YMCA in Junction City. He found a local gentleman named John Trygg, who owns a construction/trucking/street-paving company (Konza Construction) in Junction City. He provided trucks to go to Kirkland to transport the items.
"Ruth Ann tried closer to home, but she wasn't successful in finding someone who wanted to run with her idea," Hardy noted. "So she started searching and just happened to come to Fort Riley. We said, 'Yeah!'"
Reportedly, soldiers and several generals unloaded the big rigs in just an hour and 20 minutes. They then loaded the boxes onto pallets, wrapped them and put them on an Air Force cargo plane headed for Iraq.
"We managed to have coordination with the Air Force to get the items flown to Iraq, and the service members were the beneficiaries," Hardy said.