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Published: Friday, 3/9/2007

Life-size 'Flat Daddy' images help soldiers' families cope

BY HOMER BRICKEY
BLADE SENIOR BUSINESS WRITER
SFC Graphics  Eric Crockett, left, and Denny Gawronski
look over the posterlike images that are made and sent to
families whose military father or mother is away at war.
SFC Graphics Eric Crockett, left, and Denny Gawronski look over the posterlike images that are made and sent to families whose military father or mother is away at war.
Enlarge
Amanda Todd, a graphic design intern at SFC Graphics in Toledo, works on a photo for a  Flat
Daddies  print. The popularity of the program is putting a fi nancial strain on the company.
Amanda Todd, a graphic design intern at SFC Graphics in Toledo, works on a photo for a Flat Daddies print. The popularity of the program is putting a fi nancial strain on the company.
Enlarge

The soldier may be in Iraq or Afghanistan, but his full-size, lifelike image can be in the family's living room, sitting at the dining-room table, or riding in the family car, thanks to a Toledo firm.

SFC Graphics Ltd., on Woodruff Avenue near downtown, has produced more than 1,000 "Flat Daddy" prints used for cutouts mounted on foam or plastic.

So far, the company has donated most of the poster-like images to families nationwide whose father or mother is at war, but now the company said it is seeking sponsors to help with the cost of making 50 or more Flat Daddies per week.

"We just need to get sponsors at this time," said Eric Crockett, director of business development for the company. The project, he said, is gaining in popularity and becoming a financial strain on the firm.

SFC got interested in the idea last year, started making the Flat Daddy images just before Thanksgiving, and now is getting orders via e-mails at the rate of 25 to 30 a day, he explained.

The charge for the posters to nonfamily members is $40 plus $10 shipping, but they are free to military families.

To get the program going, the firm lined up other printing companies to help, including ink manufacturers who donated ink and LexJet, a Sarasota, Fla., firm that donated vinyl material used in the color-printing process.

"It's a great cause," said Camillia Mankovich, vice president of marketing for LexJet. Her firm is happy to help and wasn't worried about the cost or making a profit, she said.

The idea started four years ago, when an Army wife in North Dakota, Cindy Sorenson, made a full-size cutout of her ex-husband for their daughter. Soon after that, a motivational speaker, Elaine Dumler, heard about it and included the idea in her book about military deployments, I'm Already Home ... Again.

The Flat Daddy name comes from a children's book, Flat Stanley, involving a character that travels via envelopes.

SFC uses flatdaddies.com as its Web site for the project.

When the Maine National Guard ordered 250 of the cutouts over a year ago, the concept started getting national attention. Since SFC joined the bandwagon late last year, the local firm has been mentioned in numerous newspaper articles and television reports around the country, especially near military bases.

They have been referred to as "flat soldiers," and sometimes "flat mommies," but Mr. Crockett said only about 5 percent of the orders are for female soldiers. Other firms still make similar prints.

The local company receives orders via e-mails, including photos, and a worker checks details, such as rank, complexion and eye coloration, and height.

The printing process can take a couple of weeks, but there's a backlog at present because of a glut of recent orders, Mr. Crockett said.

Prints are shipped in mailing tubes to families, who can, if they choose, cut out the images and mount them on foam or cardboard backers.

SFC has been in the graphics business more than a century. It was founded 105 years ago as Peninsular Engraving, and in recent decades it has been run by Tom Clark, chairman, and his son and daughter.

One of the company's largest projects was printing more than a mile of draping material depicting pleasant images to mask construction sites in Detroit during last year's Super Bowl.

Mr. Crockett said he is lining up meetings with area corporations, foundations, and other groups to find funding to print more Flat Daddy posters free for immediate families of troops deployed to Iraq.

SFC has a large binder full of letters and e-mails from soldiers' families.

One from South Carolina said: "My husband had always taken the children to school and with this Flat Daddy, he will be able to ride with us."

One from Florida read: "I am truly afraid that my little one will forget who his father is I am hoping this will help calm us all down and help us to remember his smile and fill our house with laughs again."

Mr. Crockett, who has a 14-month-old son and whose wife is expecting another child, said, "I can't imagine being gone a month, let alone 18 months."

Contact Homer Brickey at:

homerbrickey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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