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Holiday cheer goes out to veterans

Jessica McCaffrey and Jolene Allison of Medica smile as they screen cards submitted the American Red Cross of Northern Minnesota's Holidays for Heroes program during United Way's Holiday Edition of Day of Caring. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)1 / 4
Sativa Bushey of Medica writes a card to a servicemember as part of Holidays for Heroes. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 4
Bundles of holiday cards are waiting to be delivered to servicemembers and veterans across Northern Minnesota. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)3 / 4
Becky Bills and Ashley Heehn bundle cards together and wrap them in ribbon. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)4 / 4

Local volunteers got into the winter spirit by volunteering a few hours of their time during the Holiday Edition of Day of Caring on Dec. 7. Hundreds of families, friends and local organizations volunteered their time and talent with over 14 service projects, including spreading holiday cheer for the homeless at Harbor House Crisis Shelter, making cocoa and crafts with kids at Myers-Wilkins Elementary and helping deck the halls of a local nursing home.

A group of 12 volunteers also worked to ensure veterans and active service members from Northern Minnesota received a little holiday cheer. Holidays for Heroes is an annual card project by the American Red Cross Serving Northern Minnesota that sends each service member or vet a bundle of five cards wrapped with a ribbon thanking them for their service.

"There are several veterans in most nursing homes, some of them aren't really connected with their family anymore. So this is a cool way to make sure they get cards to put up on their wall," said Dan Williams, executive director of American Red Cross Serving Northern Minnesota.

All the cards are filled out by individuals around the Northland throughout the months of November and December. Several organizations, schools and businesses host card-creating events. The cards are then sent to the Red Cross for processing, which is what the volunteers spent their time working on Wednesday.

Some volunteers screened the cards to make sure they were appropriate and didn't contain personal identifying information. Cards were also sorted by their target audience, being either an active duty service member or veteran or general purpose. A few select cards made it into the MVP card basket.

"Some of them are so cute, especially the ones done by kids. We had one earlier that was handwritten by a kid which said, 'I hope Santa brings you something during this Christmas,'" said volunteer Leah Mootz. "That went right into the MVP box because it was handmade and cute."

After they were sorted, cards were bundled together into packs of 5 and tied with a ribbon.

Most of the volunteers serving that morning were from Medica. Sativa Bushey said the experience was "good for team bonding." She spent most of her time hand writing cards to vets.

"So far, I've written them saying thanks for their service, for their bravery and commitment. I try to express our appreciation and wishing them a safe holiday season," Bushey said. "I just want them to know that there are people out there thinking of them and do appreciate them, especially during this time of the year."

Mootz works in human resources with Legacy Hotels. She said she volunteers at the card project every year.

"It's something that's close to my heart. My husband was in the military and my grandpa served in WWII," Mootz said. "It's important to give back to the people who serve our country in anyway we can. In this case, letting them know that they're cared for and that we are thankful."

Next the cards will be sent out for distribution at places like the 148th fighter wing Air Force base, the United States Coast Guard station, as well as several nursing and retirement homes across 16 counties in Minnesota and Douglas County, Wis.

Although Day of Caring is over, volunteers are still needed to create and process the 16,000 cards the Red Cross hopes to distribute this holiday season. Contact the Northern Minnesota Chapter at 2524 Maple Grove Rd., Duluth, MN 55811 or call (218) 722-0071.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176