To Help: 'Stockings for the troops'
For deployed soldiers stationed overseas during the holidays, reminders of home are precious.
Through the “Stockings for the Troops” program, the Collier County chapter of the American Red Cross will help deliver some holiday cheer to American troops stationed abroad — just in time for Christmas.
Thanks to numerous volunteers and organizers, the chapter has launched its fourth annual “Stockings for the Troops” program. Organizers need the community’s help to deliver 1,000 stockings, which would match last year’s donation total.
People are being asked to donate items no later than Nov. 4 to allow Red Cross volunteers and staff members time to sort, stuff and mail the stockings to arrive by the holidays.
Denise Rowe, health and safety assistant for the Collier County chapter of the Red Cross, said the holiday stockings mean a great deal to the troops, and for some, might be the only gift they receive from home during the holidays.
“Hopefully these stockings will let the troops know that they are appreciated, loved, and missed,” Rowe said.
“It really does help the troops to receive things over the holidays from people who care,’’ said Jackie Thomas, public affairs specialist in North Carolina for Fort Bragg Garrison Command. “Receiving a package from home is a great morale booster for these soldiers.”
The list of items on the Red Cross stocking list was compiled based on conversations with soldiers. Even if people only donate one item on the list of stocking stuffers, it helps the cause.
“Whatever someone can afford to donate is appreciated and every little bit helps,” Rowe said. “And for people who don’t like to shop, monetary donations are always welcome because postage is expensive.”
More than 35 boxes are expected to be shipped to the troops.
The list of items for the stockings include things like “Nerf” footballs and puzzles that help pass the time along with necessities such as bug and baby wipes. UV sunglasses that help block the sun’s powerful rays as they bounce off the desert floor also are a valuable commodity.
The stockings will go to troops stationed in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Red Cross staff and volunteers sew the stockings by hand, and stuff each one full of donated items, cards and letters.
The “Stockings for the Troops” program requires many volunteers, and there is always room for more hands to sew and stuff the stockings, and help prepare the shipment for delivery, organizers said.
It’s a common misconception that the military supplies soldiers with everything they need to be comfortable and entertained while deployed.
“Stockings for the Troops” co-chairwoman Deanna Cleary, events coordinator of the Collier County chapter of the Red Cross, said the military supplies troops with essentials, but the stockings will be stuffed with things most civilians take for granted.
Red Cross organizers chose items that are reasonably priced so anyone can donate, but which aren’t easily accessible to the troops.
“The troops can’t just run out and get items like gum or hard candy, Chapstick,” Cleary said. “Things like bug wipes keep the sand fleas out of their boots and make things a little more tolerable for them.”
One of Cleary’s favorite items that the “Stockings for the Troops” program provides to the troops is the handmade holiday card that goes into each stocking. The cards are created by Collier County schoolchildren; several schools participate in the program.
“The holiday cards, which are full of thanks and fun messages, should bring a smile to any soldier’s face,” Cleary said. “We welcome any child or adult that would like to make a holiday card and only ask that people include only their first names and exclude mailing addresses and last names for the security of children – I’ve even made several in the past to just say ‘thanks.’”
A new facet in the “Stockings for the Troops” program this year is a Red Cross Club for high school students.
The high school students will help the Red Cross and the troops, but the students also benefit. Youngsters who volunteer not only help their community through organizations like the Red Cross, they can learn traits that will help them empathize with others throughout their life, program sponsors said.
According to The Volunteer Family (TheVolunteerFamily.org), volunteerism helps young people establish concern for their neighbors and sharpens decision-making. Plus, volunteering helps children feel appreciated and earn respect – both crucial factors in establishing self-esteem. It’s also been proven that kids who volunteer are more apt to keep volunteering as they enter adulthood, and pass the practice onto new generations.
“Our first Red Cross Club for high-schoolers is at Barron Collier and they had more than 100 kids sign up to join,” said Deborah Horvath, chief executive officer of the Collier County chapter.
“Their project this year is to help with the Stockings for the Troops, collecting items to send – we are so excited that the kids decided to belong to our club, and then they decided to help with this project.”
The Red Cross chapter in Collier is in need of additional volunteers to help make stockings and prepare them for shipping. Volunteers also are needed to help collect and organize donations, and there are many other ways people can help with the project.
Interested volunteers can contact Rowe or Cleary at (239) 596-6868 to help with the program.
The donation’s drop-off location is the Red Cross office at 2610 Northbrooke Plaza Drive in North Naples.
More information on “Stockings for the Troops” or other Red Cross initiatives: CollierCountyRedCross.org.
Contact Kelly Merritt at Kelly@Kelly-Merritt.com