For nearly nine years, U.S. servicemembers stationed around the world have been receiving packages from Maricopa.
The Letters to Soldiers Club sends cards, letters and care boxes to deployed troops, most of whom are strangers. It all started as an after-school project.
“Back in 2010 I kind of created the opportunity to send support to the troops,” said LTS founder and Villages resident Heather Blakely. “At my son’s school [Legacy], we would get together about once a week during the school year and write cards and letters.”
The project evolved as the school conducted donation drives, and soon care packages were being assembled. Letters to Soldiers became a year-round activity.
“I have a couple of organizations online that I’ve known for years. They usually provide the names,” Blakely said. “Some of them are family and friends. At some of the vendor events here in town, I’ve been able to connect with a couple wives whose husbands are currently deployed, so it’s nice to represent the locals.”
The organization achieved its nonprofit status in 2018. To do so, it needed a board. Blakely reached out to one of her former tennis student, Alicia Hills, and to Robin Bennett, who had allowed LTS to bring its cards to Maricopa Community Church as part of a crafts project.
Hills’ father and grandparents were in the military. “It’s always something that’s held a high value, very honorable to me,” she said. “I have cousins that are in the military as well. I just think if I were in their shoes and in a foreign country, it would be nice to have those comforts of home and the assurance that people are thinking of you.”
Bennett, too, has had family in the military, and her son was a military contractor in Kuwait.
“He told me when a box came, even his box came where the soldiers got their boxes, and they are all over those boxes,” she said. “It’s just a piece of home.”
Blakely said becoming a nonprofit opened opportunities to gain more fundraising avenues and grants.
“And it gives it some legitimacy to what you’re doing because they know that you have to go through checks and balances on the other side,” Hills said.
“Otherwise, it comes out of her pocket,” Bennett said.
With a goal of shipping 20 packages a month, LTS also seeks more local businesses and organizations as sponsors. A large box costs $18.45 just for shipping. The group attends many vendor events in town, including Salsa Fest and Merry Copa, to gain sponsors and collect donations.
“And that’s something we want to do more of,” Hills said, “through getting our name out in the public to the community and letting people know, ‘Hey, we’re here to support your deployed loved one.’”
The website LettersToSoldiersClub.com includes a list of most-requested items on its contact page. Those include baby wipes, baby powder and beef jerky. Western Kentucky University even donated small towels. Last year, LTS sent out 106 care packages to service members.
For Halloween, the club hosted “Treats for Troops” with dentist Karen Kramarczyk offering a $1-per-pound buyback of donated excess candy. During Veterans Day weekend, a box-packing event at Blakely’s house finished with 40 packages.
The club partners with the Casa Grande school district and has groups within Maricopa schools participating. The Maricopa High School National Honor Society has provided letters to soldiers and some boxes.
While the club does not release the names of service members for operations security, it wants to build up its list of troop members. Blakely said they want to have that on the website by the end of the year, “so they can contact us, and we can get their names out to those who want to support.”
Besides those deployed, the club wants to reach out to Maricopa’s service members who still may be stateside. They sent packages to both Maricopans currently at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Hills said LTS supports veterans through the Tucson Honor Flight Program and has a soft-spot for K9 military working dogs and their handlers.
“The postal service, on an APO address, gives you a $2 discount on the large size,” Bennett said. “That’s a nice thing for the postal system to do.”
“Generally, if you send to one service member, they share with about five,” Blakely said. “So, the larger the better, so there’s more to share.”
How to participate
- Craft handmade cards, write hero letters, color pages
- Donate care-package supplies
- Host a packing party
- Contribute toward shipping costs ($18.45/large flat-rate box)
- Sponsor a box ($50 covers shipping, fill and personalized hero note)
- Follow “Letters to Soldiers Club” on Facebook
- Visit LettersToSoldiersClub.com for examples of art
- Participate through AmazonSmiles: Smile.Amazon.com/ch/83-1355919
Add your deployed Marine, Airman, Soldier or Sailor to the LTS Club beneficiary list at LettersToSoldiersClub@gmail.com
This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.