By Jackie Nelson
HESSTON – During a global pandemic, Hesston Area Seniors are looking out for troops stationed away from their families during the holidays. On Dec. 3, the center hosted its annual troop care package boxing event. This year’s boxes are being sent to troops at combat support hospitals with APO addresses, according to HAS Director Yawna Smith.
This year, 14 boxes were shipped out.
Michelle Pfautz, who has helped coordinate the care packages for several years, said this year was very different due to COVID-19.
“In the past, we have taken donations from many community members, organizations and businesses and had many volunteers to help with shipping over 200 boxes full of donations,” she said.
While community involvement was scaled back, Hesston students stepped up to help fill the gap.
“This year, due to the pandemic, the amount of donations decreased, but the schools did an amazing job of collecting items and the cards were awesome that the kids made,” she said.
Smith added that the schools enabled the center to support soldiers stationed away from home.
“The students and staff did an amazing job and we received lots of items to ship to our military troops,” she said.
With the limitations on community collections, HAS made specific requests for donations – popcorn, cards, stamps, books and hard candy. In years past, footballs, homemade goodies, socks, toiletries, coffee, snacks and a myriad of other items have been donated and shipped.
Smith said it was because of the pandemic, the center was not reaching out to the community for donations, “Since we were unable to have the volunteer staff available to help with boxing and shipping the donations.”
Rather than the typical morning-long boxing event with volunteers from across the community hand packing boxes, “This was a closed event. At this time, our center is not open to the public to ensure the safety of our kitchen staff preparing Friendship/Meals on Wheels,” said Smith.
Smith and Pfautz were the primary packagers, this year.
“[We] had a great time sorting through donations, opening packages and seeing the cards the children made for our troops. We enjoy knowing that these donations are going to our soldiers that are sacrificing time away from their families, especially during the holidays,” she said.
With just two packagers, a kitchen turning out dozens of daily meals for residents across the county and providing other essential services, Smith said finding the time and space to pack boxes was tricky and is looking forward to once again engaging the community in 2021.
“Hopefully next year, we will be able to return to the large donation drive for our troops we have done in the past. Something new we would like to implement in the future is to compile names of local graduates who have joined the military, so we could send them a box from their hometown, as well,” she said.
Especially during a pandemic, combined with the holidays, Smith said showing some love to those stationed overseas is essential.
“I feel it is important that our troops know we truly appreciate all that they do for our country and the sacrifices that they make to keep us all safe. Bringing a little joy to them during this time of year is a tradition I would like to continue at HAS for many years to come,” she said.