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Thousands of cards to be sent to soldiers

November 29, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

KEEDYSVILLE - When Lynn Jones of Keedysville asked less than a month ago for help with a holiday card drive for soldiers, little did she know she would receive cards from all but four of the states in the nation.

In all, the Washington County military support group that organized the holiday card drive received 33,318 cards, she said Sunday. The 124 boxes containing holiday cards and other items were mailed last week to 62 soldiers serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba. The soldiers getting the cards are from Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia, she said.

The soldiers are then expected to share the cards with others, especially those who have not received other holiday-related mail, Jones said.

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On Oct. 31, Jones, the group leader, said she had received only about 1,500 cards - far fewer than the 13,211 cards sent last year.

Jones said then that she hoped to collect as many as 20,000 this time, but with the deadline to send the cards fast approaching, she would be happy to just get the same number as last year. She asked people to write holiday cards as a way of thanking soldiers for risking their lives in the war.

After her plea was published the next day, group member Shirley Metz of Boonsboro said, "it just mushroomed."

When an Associated Press employee told her that a copy of the article was going to go out on its national wire, "I had no idea what that was about," she said.

Now she knows better and understands that news outlets throughout the nation apparently reported the story, Jones said.

Religious media networks and other media outlets also covered the story, sparking people's help, she said.

Jones said she had a clue the response was going to be more than expected when she started getting at least 10 phone calls a day asking for her address. She did not know it then, but people also were calling the Keedysville post office asking for her address, while others sent the mail with just her name and the town since The Associated Press story did not include her exact address. All of the mail eventually reached her, she said.

She knew the response was good when she walked into the Keedysville post office on Nov. 8 and was told that for the next few weeks she needed to drive around to the building's dock to pick up the mail for her card drive, she said.

"We are thrilled, absolutely thrilled beyond words, at the area's participation. We are just so thankful that everyone heard what we had to say," Jones said.

The cards came from people of all ages, from children in schools to older people saying they did not have much money but wanted to donate a few dollars to help pay for mailing the cards, she said.

"It really makes you feel blessed to live in America," Jones said.

Metz said the cards contained photographs of families and pets. One woman sent herbal tea for group members to drink while packing the mail, she said.

"It restores your faith in humanity," said Metz, who has a son who has served in Iraq, is currently stationed in Italy and is expected to next serve in Afghanistan.

One family with relatives in Waynesboro, Pa., and Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. sent 3,500 signed cards, Metz said.

Each of the soldiers receiving the boxes next week will get at least 550 cards, two phone cards, a patriotic prayer card and Christmas candy, Jones said. Some will receive Christmas music, while others will get pictures signed by NASCAR stars, she said. Total postage cost about $1,200, she said.

Jones said she knows from talking to her own children - Army Spc. Kelly Hurlbrink, 21, and Army Spc. Kevin Hurlbrink, 23, that the cards and other gifts are meaningful to soldiers. Both were in Iraq last Christmas but are currently in Fort Bragg, N.C., she said.

"We know it touches people's lives and if we can just make one person's holiday brighter, then it was worth every second we spend on it," Jones said.

Jones said she could not have done the work without the help of about 50 volunteers, especially that of Vicki and Dick Kaetzel of Gapland, Md.

The support group members encountered some amazing, inspiring people through their work, some of whom they will work with when they do another drive for holiday cards next year, Jones said.

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