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November 11. 2012 9:11PM

Jaffrey's 10-year tradition of sending packages to troops could be ending

JAFFREY - Ten years after starting a soldier care package drive at the American Legion John Humiston Post 11, organizers said at their Veterans Day drive Saturday that it would be their last.

"This is our last one. We are done," said organizer Tammy Devlin of Jaffrey, whose 19-year-old son serves in the Air Force. "There's not that many soldiers. The need has greatly decreased because the war, technically, has ended. However if there is a need we will do it again. Hopefully, there won't be another war."

The care package events were spearheaded by Jaffrey resident Caroline Hollister, who suggested it at a March town meeting in 2002.

"She had this idea, so she started taking names at town meeting," her husband Clay Hollister said Saturday.

Since then, over 2,500 boxes have been sent out, he said.

Inside the American Legion hall's kitchen, Ladies Auxiliary Unit No. 11 members were shrink-wrapping home-baked cookie and brownies, a technique they have perfected over the past 10 years. Denise Barlow of Peterborough was overseeing the shrink-wrapping and still accepting baked goods from volunteers as they walked in.

By the end of the morning the women had shrink-wrapped 209 dozen cookies and brownies, she said. And this is considered a light day for the volunteers, who are only sending boxes to a handful of servicemen and women deployed in the Middle East. They also sent boxes to a few stationed in Germany and stateside.

At the height of deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, volunteers at these events would package 200 to 300 boxes on a Saturday morning.

Organizers estimated the operation had sent out over 3,000 dozen cookies and brownies to servicemen and women in the past decade.

Barlow said she and the other members of the Ladies Auxiliary are not going to let the care package work end if there is even one solider remaining overseas.

"We were talking about that. I work here at the Legion and I'm also on the Ladies Auxiliary and we are not going to let it drop. If there are soldiers over there, we are going to do it. . It's kind of bitter-sweet 'cause, I mean, it's telling you they are all coming home, which is awesome. But if someone is over there, even if it is on a smaller scale, we're still going to do this."

Supporting the troops was the purpose of the care package drives, but supporting the families of the servicemen and women became a secondary function of the events.

"We get a lot of military families. A lot of moms come in. They get support and they find out they are not the only ones," Devlin said.

Susan Ellsworth of Antrim has never volunteered at any of the past events, but recently heard about it and arrived Saturday morning with a check from her employer to help pay for postage. The mother of a 19-year-old recent ConVal High School graduate and new Marine who is to be deployed to Afghanistan early next year, Ellsworth said she wants to help continue care package efforts and perhaps start a mother's support group.

"I just heard about this. . I'm trying to see if I can get some more moms on my end. A whole lot ConVal kids have joined up," she said.

Ellsworth said she is proud of her son, but tears up when talking about his deployment.

Anita Genetti of Jaffrey, whose 30-year-old daughter is a Captain in the Marines, said she has been coming to the events since 2004. Genetti said she relied on the support of other parents she met at the care package events when her daughter was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2007."

I was in tears the whole time she was gone," Genetti said. "It was good because you connected with other parents that have kids over there."

Genetti said she is glad overseas deployments are down, but said she doesn't want to see support of the troops ending.

"It's good to see it's dwindled down," she said, but added, "Everybody needs to know they are loved from home."

The home-baked goods and toiletries are greatly appreciated said Devlin, but what soldiers say they love the most are the cards and letters written from volunteers and area school children to the servicemen and women they don't even know.

"You can feed the body and you can clean the body, but the letters go straight to their hearts," Devlin said.

mpierce@newstote.com


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