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Program sending holiday wishes to troops

November 30, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

KNOXVILLE -- A trailer will unload 318 boxes today at the Keedysville post office to be shipped to military servicemen and servicewomen overseas.

Inside those boxes will be 97,193 Christmas cards, personal hygiene items, DVDs, food and other supplies collected by the South Washington County Military Support Group. The annual holiday shipment - now in its sixth year - relies heavily on donations and community support, said Lynn Jones, the group's leader.

About 50 volunteers worked Sunday afternoon at Camp Manidokan in Knoxville to sort and pack the boxes that will be sent today.

In 2007, the group sent 175 military members and their units 119,434 cards in three countries - Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq.

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When the holiday card effort first began, Jones' son, Kevin Hurlbrink, and her daughter, Kelly Zamora, were in the 82nd Airborne and serving in the Middle East. But like many of the group's volunteers, Jones has continued the holiday card and supply drive even after her own family is no longer benefiting.

Patty Bolland, a member of the South Washington County Military Support Group, said her son, a U.S. Army paratrooper, is now in Fort Bragg, N.C., but has done two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

Bolland said she will continue to volunteer with the group as long as she is able to because she knows the boxes have a positive impact on those who receive them.

Bolland said the response this year has been so overwhelming that there are some items that cannot be shipped. Those donations will be shared with a local veterans center, food bank and nursing homes.

Jones said this was the first year the group has used a tractor-trailer - loaned by Food Lion - to transport the donations.

Jones said that this year, capturing the community's attention and compelling them to donate their money, supplies, cards and time was difficult. She said the election and the recent national economic crisis diverted people's attention.

It cost the Military Support Group about $5,000 to ship the boxes in 2007, and Bolland said she expected a similar price tag this year.

Julie Boyer of Williamsport said her husband, Scott Boyer, works with Jones, who got them involved in the holiday card drive. Boyer was volunteering Sunday and said they continue to give their time for the "excellent cause."

Bolland said some of the servicemen and servicewomen and their units even send cards, letters and photographs to show their appreciation for the gifts. Those are kept in an album that includes some certificates of appreciation and awards the Military Support Group has received from those serving in the Middle East.

Jones said she was proud of the support her group received locally and from those they are working to help.

"It makes me proud to be from this area and proud to be an American," Jones said.

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