Two years ago, I received a letter from Margaret Kotaska of Grand Rapids with a great suggestion. Margaret had heard of a way to support our recovering soldiers during the holiday season. The idea: When doing your Christmas cards this year, take one card and send it to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., addressed to “A Recovering American Soldier.” And if every person who did this passed the suggestion onto a friend or relative who did the same, “think of how many cards these wonderful, special people who have sacrificed so much would get.”

Margaret said she sent out cards to a few patients and thought this was “a good idea as people seem to ask for all kinds of donations and I think the poor patients would love to receive mail, especially at Christmas time.”

Last week, Carol Arnold brought a note to the newspaper office with a similar suggestion and address for Walter Reed.

In today’s hustle and bustle of quick, impersonal, anonymous emails and texts sent without much time nor thought (nor attention to spelling or grammar), this suggestion seems the perfect task for Americans this December. It wouldn’t cost much - just a couple bucks more on top of what many are now spending on fancy, photo cards produced and ordered online. In fact, homemade cards would probably be appreciated most. And the project could be an opportunity to teach our kids about the true meaning of Christmas.

Grab crayons and a blank piece of paper, a stray envelop and a stamp. Turn off the television and turn on the holiday music. Invite your children to take a break from pouring over store catalogs filled with flashy toys and sit with you at the dining room table to create a simple, yet heartfelt, card - with genuine words of thanks, get-well, and many blessings.

Margaret called me after we published her letter to say she had discovered the address she had for Walter Reed was not the correct location to send cards to soldiers. She told me she would do her best to find the correct address.

After talking with Carol whose son served in Afghanistan, she spoke about the many injured soldiers who have no family and how said it would be if they were left out during the holidays. Remembering Margaret’s same suggestion, I did a quick search of our newspaper archives and found various news reports stating that the “Recovering American Soldier” effort has dissolved due to lack of organization, security concerns and other factors.

Margaret’s research led her to the Holiday Mail for Heroes program, as did my online search again this year. Holiday Mail for Heroes is sponsored by The American Red Cross and the cards are delivered to recovering soldiers at stateside hospitals as well as those stationed throughout the U.S. and abroad, including veterans and their families.

The deadline for accepting cards is already this Friday, Dec. 7. So get out your stamps today. Cards postmarked after that will be returned to sender. The deadline allows enough time to sort and distribute cards before the holidays.

Cards are being accepted at:

Holiday Mail for Heroes

P.O. Box 5456

Capitol Heights, MN

20791-5456

The Red Cross has a few card-making tips to keep in mind:

Do:

• Include your heartfelt sentiments and sign all cards

• Entitle cards with generic terms such as “Dear Service Member, Family or Veteran”

• Limit cards to 15 per person or 50 for school class or business group

• Bundle groups of cards in single, large envelopes

Don’t:

• Send letters, care packages or monetary gifts

• Include personal information such as home or email addresses

• Use glitter (excessive amounts can aggravate health issues or wounded recipients)

• Include inserts of any kinds as they must be removed in the screening process

This is the sixth year the Red Cross has sponsored the Holiday Mail for Heroes program. Let’s join Margaret, Carol and many others nationwide to make the holidays warm for our soldiers and their families by telling them we appreciate their sacrifices with a simple card.

For those who want to show their appreciation through packages and presents, Walter Reed Medical Center officials ask that they consider making a donation to one of the more than 300 nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping troops and their families listed on the America Supports You website, www.americasupportsyou.mil. The former Walter Reed Army Medical Center closed in August 2011 and merged with the National Naval Medical Center to form the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) in Bethesda, Maryland. WRNMMC’s website page (www.wrnmmc.capmed.mil) directs people to the Holiday Mail for Heroes program.

Editorials are written by Grand Rapids Herald-Review Editor Britta Arendt. Email her at barendt@grandrapidsheraldreview.net or call 218-313-3205.

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