Lenten project benefits troops - Catholic Courier

Lenten project benefits troops

“You may be far from home, but you’re not forgotten and we’re holding you close in our hearts.”

That’s the message parishioners at Holy Cross Parish in Ovid recently conveyed to American soldiers serving at Camp Ramadi in Iraq.

During the six weeks of Lent parishioners collected reading material, nonperishable food and other items, which they then sent to the troops overseas, said parishioner Sally Limoncelli, who spearheaded the project. Each box sent to Iraq also included handwritten notes and cards, many of which were written by the children in the parish’s faith-formation program, she added. The parishioners hope these notes and cards will warm the hearts of lonely or homesick soldiers.

“Even though they’re miles away, they are being thought of,” Limoncelli said.

The project’s first seeds were planted in January, when Limoncelli’s nephew, Army Staff Sgt. Jason Yurek, was sent to Camp Ramadi, where he is a medic at a trauma center. Shortly after he arrived in Iraq Yurek contacted his family with a special request.

“He wanted to know if we would be able to send him magazines, because they had no reading material over there,” Limoncelli said.

Limoncelli thought collecting things for the troops overseas might be a good Lenten project for Holy Cross parishioners. She brought the idea to the pastoral council, which agreed with her, and she soon began publicizing the project in the parish bulletin, she said.

Parishioners soon began bringing in used magazines and books, and the local library even donated nine boxes of magazines and paperback books, Limoncelli said. After learning more about Camp Ramadi from her nephew, Limoncelli also decided to broaden the collection project to include other items that would improve the soldiers’ quality of life.

Limoncelli began asking parishioners to donate such items as hand lotion, hand sanitizer, toothpaste and dryer sheets. She also began collecting nonperishable food items that could easily be shipped overseas, such as tea bags, instant coffee, instant oatmeal, cookies, pre-sweetened drink mixes, microwavable popcorn, peanuts and trail mix. Little things like these will ship well and can brighten the soldiers’ days, she said.

“It’s things that you just take for granted that you have all around,” Limoncelli said.

Included in the boxes Limoncelli and other parishioners sent to Camp Ramadi were such useful items as bug-repellent wipes, flashlights, batteries, pencils, paper, envelopes and phone cards. They also included items that were somewhat less practical, but hopefully just as welcome, such as puzzles, playing cards, DVDs, yo-yos, balloons, Frisbees and disposable cameras, Limoncelli said.

The younger faith-formation children made cards for the servicemen and women, and the older children penned notes and letters for them. These letters, notes and cards are every bit as important and necessary as the other, more practical items the parish collected, Limoncelli said. Yurek has told her that many of his fellow soldiers don’t have family members who write to them, so they rarely receive mail.

“Letters are appreciated anytime by anybody,” Limoncelli said. “We’re trying to get at least a couple letters with the boxes, even if it’s just a ‘thinking of you’ card.”

Limoncelli began packing the donated items as they came in. She bought flat-rate boxes from the post office for about $8 and stuffed them with as many items as possible.

“It’s not a real big box, but you’d be surprised what you can fit in there,” she said.

When she was done, she squeezed pieces of hard candy into the few remaining crevices she found.

“We just use that as filler,” she said. She used hard candy instead of chocolate because chocolate would melt in Iraq’s March heat, she said.

Parishioners donated to the project enthusiastically, Limoncelli said, and by late February she had sent one box to Camp Ramadi. Yurek had received it by early March, and he contacted his aunt to let him know how much he and his fellow soldiers appreciated the donated items. As the items come in, Yurek distributes them among the other staff and patients at the medical center.

Although the collection began as a Lenten project, Limoncelli said she’ll keep sending boxes to her nephew in Iraq as long as donations keep coming in.

“It’s an ongoing project,” she said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To send any of the above-mentioned items to soldiers at Camp Ramadi, contact Sally Limoncelli at 607/582-7517 or send the items to SSG Jason Yurek, CCO3BSB1BCT3ID, Camp Ramadi, APO AE 09396.

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