Two Morenci groups back Project Soldier 01.19.2011

Written by David Green.

gun_winnerBy DAVID GREEN

Julie Waltrous is delighted with the support she received from the Morenci American Legion Post and the Morenci Kiwanis Club, but she’s really not all that surprised. She’s received help from a variety of sources over the past few years.

Waltrous, of Brooklyn, Mich., coordinates Project Soldier—an effort to send boxes of miscellaneous supplies to soldiers stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We’ve brought a lot of people together,” Waltrous said.

School groups, churches, Legion posts and Kiwanis Clubs, concerned individuals—the assistance has enabled the group to mail 50 boxes overseas six to eight times a year.

The Brooklyn Kiwanis Club started the effort in 2004 and it’s grown since.

“It’s truly amazing,” Waltrous said, “and it’s so cool to see so many people come together for a common effort.”

The group places a high priority on sending boxes to area soldiers when their names are called in to receive supplies. When they run short of local soldiers, they contact the Texas organization “Adopt a Platoon.”

“We’re currently packing for a platoon from Michigan,” Waltrous said.

She described a recent effort that sent 100 boxes to a remote outpost in Afghanistan.

“There’s no running water, no PX, no chow hall,” she said. “We did our best to give them a good Christmas.”

Morenci’s Legion post has collected items in the past, but last year the group got involved with fund-raising and collected $600 through a gun raffle. They repeated the effort this year. The cash helps Project Soldier buy items to supplement donations and to pay for shipping—$10.95 a box.

“Russ Tompkins is the driving force behind [Morenci’s participation],” Waltrous said. “The American Legion post in Morenci has been wonderful.”

Tompkins pushes to get the effort done and he’s also helped out in Brooklyn. When people gather there to pack boxes, all the participants become teammates, Waltrous said, and the camaraderie is great.

In addition to food and hygiene products, Waltrous said they also send a little “silly stuff” such as Play-Doh and wooden puzzles, and Beanie Babies to hand out to children.

Hotel size soap and shampoo is a good size to send, she said, and when they get donations of large toothpaste tubes, they’re often able to exchange them for smaller travel size tubes.

She suggests saving the extra condiments from drive-through restaurants because those, also, are a convenient size for soldiers to use.

If donated items can’t be mailed, they’re given to a VA hospital, food pantries or other organizations.

“It’s really become a passion and I want to keep it going until they come home,” Waltrous said.

If they group ends up with left-over items, there are plenty of veterans here at home who can use assistance, she said.

As plans progress for another mailing, Waltrous will treasure the way so many people join together to make it a success.

“It’s not mine or yours—it’s ours,” she said.

Suggested items are listed below. See the Project Soldier website for a detailed list. The group can be contacted through the website or by calling Julie Waltrous at 517/315-1039.

• Toiletries and personal hygiene items, but no glass containers or aerosols;

• Snack foods;

• Coffee, tea and hot chocolate;

• Powdered drinks;

• Games, magazines and batteries.

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