BY JOHN J. HOPKINS
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Next weekend the Salvation Army will be sending some very important packages to area veterans and to troops overseas.
Large greeting cards, designed and signed by area students and other members of the public will be sent to area VA centers and to troops in Afghanistan and other Middle East destinations.
The cards serve as pages inside a bound book. The book’s cover is designed every year by a local artist. This year’s design was made by Julia Beamer. In previous years, cards have been deisgned by Manning McCandlish, Joseph Buczkowski, Ray Marshall and Joseph Whalen.
This year the Salvation Army expects to ship about 130 cards to the veterans and troops, said Chris Gresart, community center director.
“Last we there were 172 cards; the most we’ve ever had,” said Gresart. “We started in 2007 and its grown every year since.”
The bound books all have removable bindings so that the cards can be displayed individually. Micro Graphics provides the binding services. “They’ve been excellent,” Gresart added.
Every year the cards are sent to the VA Hospital in Buffalo and to the Veterans Home in Batavia. Another set is delivered to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the largest U.S. military hospital located outside the country.
“Those are permanent,” Gresart said, indicating that the three locations receive cards every year.
Some cards are sent overseas to specific troops, and some have been sent to servicemen stationed at Guantanamo Bay.
In 2011 cards were sent to two units serving in Afghanistan along with a command center in Kuwit through which all U.S. troops serving in Iraq pass. Another set of cards went to the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Florida.
To get the cards “over there” in time, the Salvation Army works with members of the 914th Airlift Wing based in Niagara Falls who help ensure the cards are delivered to the right person. A local donor pays for shipping to New York City where the armed services takes over delivery.
“Sometimes, after Christmas, we get thank-you letters back from the troops,” said Major Martha Wheeler.
Those letters — and pictures of the troops in Afghanistan proudly displaying their cards — are on display at the Salvation Army.
One year a New York State trooper stationed in Afghanistan showed his unit’s appreciation by sending to the Salvation Army a U.S. flag they flew at Camp Marmal, Mazar-E-Sharif, on Christmas day.
This year’s cards will be on display today, the last day of an open house, at the Salvation Army, 50 Cottage St., from 4-6 p.m.