Sharing Christmas with the troops
Legion women seek donations in Hortonville
By Scott Bellile
As the holiday season nears, Hortonville American Legion Auxiliary Unit 55 is already mailing some Christmas spirit to American troops overseas. But the Unit 55 women need area residents’ help.
Food and cash donations for Unit 55’s annual holiday push are slower than past years. Hortonville resident Donna Nickel, who leads the effort, speculated the public is less aware that active troops still remain in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Unit 55 asks the public to donate: money, new Christmas cards without glitter that troops can mail to families, hand warmers, hot cocoa and tea mixes, trail mix, granola bars, instant soup, foil tuna pouches, postage stamps, caffeinated coffee, beef jerky, instant oatmeal, cappuccino mixes, nuts and dried fruit.
Area schools, church groups, businesses and Legion groups keep the cause going every year. Last year Greenville Middle School donated 95 pounds of Halloween candy, and the community collected 10,000 to 15,000 Christmas cards.
“It’s just so important to make them feel like they’re valued and treasured. Holidays are hard for military people,” volunteer Julie Zalewski of Hortonville said.
Nickel estimated volunteers and donors have helped 33,600 service members in the last decade.
“That’s what makes it incredible, is all this community involvement,” Nickel said.
With the goal of achieving $16,000 in donations this year, the women plan to send items to service people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey and United Arab Emirates.
Nickel said some of the countries where soldiers are stationed don’t have stores where they can buy food. She added she is concerned about the rising influence of ISIS and wants to make the soldiers’ lives easier in any way possible.
“The whole idea is to reach the guys who need it most,” Nickel said.
The donation effort began in 2005 when Donna’s husband Ed gave her $1,000 to send goods overseas to their son Joe and his comrades.
“I wanted to make sure my son and his unit’s morale stayed up,” Donna said.
That turned into a desire to help more service members. Donna went door to door at all of Hortonville’s businesses to ask for donations. Some were hesitant to hand money to a stranger at the door, but the community became familiar with Donna’s efforts and the donations grew.
Ed said he provided Donna the initial cash to help Joe. But the charity project, which takes up all the shelves in his basement, is all hers.
“I look at this and go, ‘What did I do?’” Ed said, looking around his basement overflowing with boxes, before clarifying with a laugh, “No, it’s a good thing.”
Drop-off locations for donations include:
Hortonville: Gilbert’s Super Value, Pork’s Tap, Subway, Otter Creek Sports Bar and Grill, Hardtails Saloon, Brick’s Hardware and Sell Chiropractic.
New London: Festival Foods, Piggly Wiggly and the Press Star office.
Greenville: Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church.