American Legion Auxiliary reaches out to soldiersSomeday soon five soldiers in Afghanistan, who have likely never been to Lake County, will receive a shoe-size box filled with an assortment of items intended to brighten their day.
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
Someday soon five soldiers in Afghanistan, who have likely never been to Lake County, will receive a shoe-size box filled with an assortment of items intended to brighten their day.
The care packages are part of Operation Minnesota Nice, a project of the American Legion Auxiliary. Packing day for the boxes took place at the American Legion Post in Two Harbors, with six of the group’s 181 members on hand and one tiny tag-along, chaplain Chrisstie Flanigan’s infant son, Colin.
“(He’s the) youngest SAL member,” Auxiliary President Nancy Hopper quipped, referring to the babe’s early induction into the Sons of the American Legion.
Hopper said that the group “chips in” and purchases the items that go into the boxes, though some are donated by local businesses. Liquor, other liquids and pornography are not permitted, but there’s plenty of scope for the imaginative gift-giver to come up with a useful collection of necessities and treats. When she arrived at the post, for example, Hopper was carrying bags containing razors, pre-measured coffee portions, soap, toothbrushes and lots of snacks. There were also five Duncan yo-yo’s and five decks of cards.
“Some are things we think they might need and some are just fun stuff. We also try to write a letter and include that, too,” she added. In return, the group recently received a care package of its own in the form of written correspondence.
A few months ago, they got a letter from Rodolfo Gomez, who is working with a medical evacuation and search and rescue unit in Afghanistan. He is scheduled to return to the U.S. in June and retire next December after a 20-year military career. The two-page missive tells of his early years growing up in New Jersey, his decision to serve in the military, the many places he’s been and his sense of appreciation to those who have sent gifts and care packages.
“First I would like to thank you very much for taking your time to take care of us here in Afghanistan,” he wrote. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. To receive so much from you is a blessing. The small comforts of home given to us by you are a small treat that means a lot.”
Gomez said he has two children, is engaged to a woman with two children and is looking forward to life as a civilian.
“I am hoping to get back home and even though I cannot make up for lost time, I hope to enjoy the next few years of my life at home with my family,” he said.
Looking back on his career, which has included multiple deployments to places like Kosovo and Macedonia and Iraq, Gomez said he knows there are people who don’t agree with some of the government’s decisions regarding military intervention around the world, but overall he’s been touched by the support people have shown.
“The response we have received here from all the supporters is overwhelming. We feel like superstars and we never knew how much people actually cared about those serving overseas. I never really saw what I was doing as something big. I just saw it as doing my part and my job for my country, “ he said.
Gomez’ letter served as an encouragement to the women of the auxiliary, who enthusiastically prepared the boxes for shipment, placing a copy of the Lake County News- Chronicle in each before securing the top with packing tape.
“It looks like anything we can do to make their life a little easier IS appreciated,” said Hopper, adding that perhaps the pictures of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in the paper would encourage recipients to visit Lake County someday.
The American Legion Auxiliary has a number of activities planned— helping with outings, bingo and events for the residents at the Silver Bay Veteran’s Home, hosting a teacher’s luncheon and participating in Heritage Days and Winter Frolic. The American Legion Riders will also be making an appearance in Lake County this year with monies raised going to fund scholarships for veterans’ kids.
The auxiliary is always looking for new members, said Hopper who has been involved for over 55 years. Prospective members must be the spouse, child, grandchild or sibling of someone who’s served in the military. Meetings are held the third Saturday of each month in the Memorial Room of the American Legion in Two Harbors. Hopper said she’s eager to have new active members.
“If we have more active members, we can do more for veterans,” she said