Operation Home Support 10th anniversary
Operation Home Support will celebrate its 10th anniversary in May. Jan Hess started the program, Hess is a member of the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary unit 42 of Ferron. Operation Home Support came to be when Hess' son Kelly, was serving in the United States Army in Afghanistan. He loved getting care packages, but he told his mom he felt bad for the soldiers that never received any. Hess took this information of soldiers not getting letters or care packages to the auxiliary and they decided they wanted to do something about it. Kelly sent his mom a list of names and addresses of soldiers that he felt could be helped by the auxiliary. The Auxiliary women got busy doing fundraisers such as bake sales and yard sales and as money came in they were able to ship out their first Operation Home Support care packages in April of 2004.
That was just the beginning and care packages have been shipped faithfully at least six times each year. Hess said she likes to center the theme of the care packages around the various holidays with their biggest packages being sent for Christmas.
Since the beginning 10 years ago many tokens and signs of appreciation as well as flags, plaques and letters and emails have told the story of the soldier's appreciation for the work these American Legion Ladies Auxiliary members have done for these soldiers.
Items put in the care packages include: toiletries, gum, candy, individual serving canned entrees, fleece blankets, gloves and hats. Many times throughout the years the ladies have asked for the help of groups and school children to write letters to soldiers serving in a combat zone.
Operation Home Support sends out care packages for every holiday during the year and occasionally a surprise package to each of the soldiers on their list who are on duty in a combat zone.
Janet Damron is also involved in the project her dear friend Shirley Michell, known fondly "Grandma Frickert" is more than 80 years old and lives in the Salt Lake area. She knits hats for soldiers each year.
Everything for the soldiers is stored within ziplock bags and then included in the box. The soldiers reuse these bags to store their personal belongings to keep the sand out of their things.
Monetary gifts are always welcome to pay for postage for the items and to buy items for future packages. The packages are sent to soldiers overseas who are residents of Emery County or who have loved ones in the county. People submit the soldiers names and addresses to the auxiliary and they take it from there. They have served hundreds of soldiers since the beginning.
They also receive a package on Veteran's Day.
Some of the soldiers they have sent to are on their second or third tour of duty and some of them have arrived safely back home.
The major fundraiser each year is the bake sale/yard sale which this year will be on June 14 at the mayor's park in Ferron.
The auxiliary will also accept items to ship. Some of the items include packaged goodies, music CDs, socks, pictures, books and other items the soldiers need.
The boxes are always filled to capacity and ready to mail. Hess jokingly remembers using the vacuum cleaner to suck the air out of the bags the fleece blankets were placed in so every inch of space in the mailing boxes could be filled to capacity.
One Christmas the box included a fleece blanket the ladies made with the initials of each soldier on their blanket. Some of the soldiers don't ever receive any letters or packages from home. Hess said many of the soldiers they send to, share their boxes with the other soldiers. Hess also talks to each of the families of the soldiers and the soldiers themselves to see what items they would like to receive to personalize the boxes even more.
Hess is definitely world famous for her contribution and the ladies auxiliary contributions to our soldiers in harm's way. As the conflicts have decreased so has the number of soldiers being sent packages. One soldier Rick Kollar is now on his seventh tour of duty and the ladies have been with him every step of the way as they remember him with a care package. Hess just shipped out Easter baskets to all the soldiers on their list. The basket included a toy truck because she said, "Everyone needs a new toy at Easter." They even send decorations for the soldiers rooms to brighten up their surroundings. The ladies will send packages to others who aren't receiving any mail, when they get a special request from a soldier. It breaks the ladies hearts to know there are some over there that are forgotten. But, these ladies help out in that circumstance and send packages to these soldiers. Hess said, "In some of the letters I've received back, the guys tell how they will let out a big yell of joy when they open their packages." The ladies are especially happy and proud that all their boys and girls have come home safely. Hess has adopted all these soldiers as her own and calls them her sons and daughters. The flags the ladies have received in appreciation have all flown over Iraq or Afghanistan.
"I know they appreciate what we are doing and what we are trying to accomplish. This is a very rewarding project. We appreciate all the help we have from the volunteers," said Hess.