by Amanda Bloom
AN OUTREACH to overseas American troops that started in a local second grade classroom has expanded to several school districts, organizations and corporations.
Valentines for Troops, a group based in Newtown, Connecticut, sent over 3300 letters to 2200 overseas troops last year and are hoping to send even more in 2011.
by Amanda Bloom
AN OUTREACH to overseas American troops that started in a local second grade classroom has expanded to several school districts, organizations and corporations. Valentines for Troops, a group based in Newtown, Connecticut, sent over 3300 letters to 2200 overseas troops last year and are hoping to send even more in 2011.
Laurie Borst, a member of Valentines for Troops, explained in a phone interview that the group began six years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A teacher was looking for a real life writing experience for her students, and she reached out to former Army captain Donna Randle, one of the students’ mothers. Randle collected addresses, and the class began writing letters to the soldiers. Borst’s son was serving in Kuwait at the time, and she became involved with the group when he got a letter “from home”.
“It made my heart feel good,” Borst said.
“After that it just took off,” she continued. “The next year I think the whole second grade wrote; the year after that it was second and fourth; year after that it was all of Sandy Hook School, and by then Donna’s kids – she has boy girl twins – they had moved to Reed School and Reed jumped on it. Last year we had an amazing amount of participation. Most all our schools wrote, and Reid’s Interact Club collected items, and Charter Communications jumped on board; they were collecting DVDs. So we were shipping all kinds of stuff along with letters.”
Unilever has donated bars of soap, Newtown dentists have donated toothbrushes, Duracell has offered batteries, Starbucks is shipping over coffee and the Newtown Youth Academy has been collecting personal care items and sporting goods for the troops. Items are also being collected for overseas canine units.
“The dogs perform all sorts of duties,” explained Borst, “from bomb-sniffing right up to therapy[…]There’s not just people over there; there’s a lot of different avenues of people and animals serving.”
Borst said that students who write letters often get responses from the troops, who share their experiences and sometimes small mementos.
“They are grateful,” she said. “That’s a lifeline for them, to have any connection back to the real world, the life they left behind. It’s very different from what they’re all experiencing.”
Borst said that most of the troops they connect with are located in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Japan, and letters are also sent to one or two naval ships. She hailed Donna Randle as the “driving force, the energy” of the group, the one who makes it possible for the soldiers to connect back home.
Those interested in getting involved in Valentines for Troops can email Randle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with Valentines for Troops on Facebook at Facebook.com/Pages/Valentines-for-Troops-Newtown-CT.