Four years ago this month, Dawn Heisler organized her first shipment of care packages for U.S. troops, sending 11 boxes of goodies to American servicemen and women overseas.
This week, her nonprofit Heroes in Action group shipped nearly 400 holiday boxes filled with goodies to U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also sent some to wounded military personnel in the United States.
It takes an army, almost, to get that many packages from Toledo into the hands of the troops overseas. But it s well worth the time, effort, and money when Mrs. Heisler hears back from the soldiers.
I got a note recently that said, Every time we get a box, it s like a hug from home, she said with a smile on Wednesday, which was packing day for Heroes in Action s Christmas shipment.
Mrs. Heisler, wearing felt reindeer antlers, watched over several dozen volunteers nimbly filling fuzzy Santa hats with candy, putting deodorant and shampoo in plastic bags, and slipping books, magazines, compact discs, and other items into cardboard boxes that were lined up like oversized dominos in the atrium of Calvary Assembly of God.
We re a band of little elves, said Madolyn Neumann, 75, of Temperance, busily scooping cups of candy into the Santa hats.
My husband and I do this most months, she said of helping Heroes in Action pack the boxes. Those guys and girls are over there for us to keep us free.
Working beside Mrs. Neumann was Victoria Sanford, 22, a student at Owens Community College.
I started doing this two months ago, she said, after I discovered Heroes in Action doing a project for the girl scouts.
She said these shipments mean a lot to her because she has a cousin, Lakia Kern, serving as a military police officer in Iraq.
Peggy Warders of Holland, who was putting tea bags inside small plastic sandwich bags, said her 26-year-old son, Army Lt. Stuart Warders, left for Iraq in September.
Christmas will be different this year, she said.
You pray a lot, Mrs. Warders said.
Although Mrs. Heisler uses her home church, Calvary Assembly of God on Glendale Avenue in South Toledo, on the monthly packing days, volunteers come from throughout the community and from many different churches, she said.
Each of the boxes costs $11 for postage, and the goodies they contain are donated by companies, churches, schools, unions, Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, and individuals, she said.
Thousands of Christmas cards, handwritten to the troops, have been arriving for weeks from throughout northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. Stacks of them are packed into each box so the recipients can pass them out to their colleagues, Mrs. Heisler said.
One card, made of light blue construction paper, was decorated with a snowflake and a smiley face on the front and the words, Let It Snow!
Inside, the writer wrote in crayon: It probably isn t snowing there but it s the only phrase I could think of. Oh well.
Hope you get home safely. [Signed] Sky Blue, Perrysburg Troop 10820.
Another one proclaimed Marry Crissmiss and another had piece of notebook paper stapled inside with the lyrics to a verse of We Wish You a Merry Christmas written in pencil.
Mrs. Heisler, who was a finalist for the 2007 Jefferson Awards for Public Service, started Heroes in Action when her grandson, Trent Heisler, was serving with the Marines in Iraq.
At first, she said, she collected things that she knew the soldiers were lacking common items such as shampoo, hot chocolate, and playing cards. The first batch of packages were shipped to sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren of people who attended Calvary.
Mrs. Heisler said she was surprised when her grandson told her many of the marines used the bottles of shampoo they received in the care packages to wash their underwear.
She s learned other things over the years, such as putting the items into plastic bags inside the boxes to protect the contents from sand and bugs overseas. Plus the bags give the troops something handy to carry the goodies in.
Mrs. Heisler s mailing list has continued to grow and includes servicemen and women with ties throughout Ohio and Michigan.
The nondenominational, nonprofit Heroes in Action organization also provides support to local families of servicemen who are stationed overseas.
Our mission is to let every man and woman serving our country know they are not forgotten, that they are loved, Mrs. Heisler said.
More information on Heroes in Action is available by contacting Dawn Heisler at 419-699-3439 or by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.