Volunteers of all ages came from Putnam, Westchester, Dutchess and all around the tri-state area Friday night to lend a helping hand to a good cause.
Approximately 50 United for the Troops volunteers convened on the county building in Carmel, organizing and packing essential items like toiletries, and goodies of all kinds, for U.S. troops currently stationed overseas.
UFT's Jim Rathschmidt and his group do regular drives to gather donations and send them to soldiers - this one is aimed at Valentine's Day and therefore dubbed 'Operation Cupid.'
Soldiers fill out 'wish lists,' including some of the things they miss most from home, and UFT does its best to gather the items, then packages them and sends them overseas. Soldiers get an 'essentials' box, with toiletries, etc, and a 'goodie' box, filled with favorite snacks or other food items - and letters and Valentines cards - all written by area school children, teachers, seniors and community members expressing their gratitude.
"Everything is donated by the community," Rathschmidt told Daily Voice. "Our mission started with finding local men and women, and those deployed two or three times, those with no family, have never received anything.
"The community loves it," Rathschmidt added, looking around at the dozens of volunteers packing boxes. "Because there's no political affiliation, and we get so many letters from the soldiers, even from their moms. They are so appreciative."
The group packed 237 boxes Friday night, ready to be shipped Saturday to places like Iraq, Afganistan, Kuwait and South Korea. And Rathschmidt is quick to add that UFT will try to respond to any request from other parts of the world.
Donations come from many directions. Sherri Donovan of Somers came up with the idea to send small bags with US soil with their hand-written Valentine cards, and the Somer Girls Scouts and Primrose Elementary students put them all together. "The idea for the soil just popped into my head, and we've been doing it for about a year now," Donovan said. "It's just so they can keep a little bit of home in their pockets."
Nancy Potthast of Cortland Manor said her son (Senior Airman in the Air Force) - who recently returned from Iraq - was thrilled to receive one of the boxes. "He and his squad received several boxes, and they said it was great," she said. "They were the best boxes. What makes them special is the cards and letters, and the thought that goes into every box. It really is a big deal to them.
"This is a well thought out and well-planned operation," Potthast added. "It's really special... it lets them know people are thinking about them, and care."
Potthast also loves how UFT brings families of soldiers together. "When I found out about UFT I was so excited to volunteer," she said. "The support I got from this organization, and to have other parents to talk to... For Patty and Jim to be able to connect people like this as well... it's just such a great organization."
Rathschmidt was grateful to Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell and the Putnam County Highway Department for allowing the group use of the county building to put together the packages.
Find more info on United for the Troops on their website here , or check them out on Facebook.