In four years, one small but dedicated congregation has greatly improved the lives of more than 500 soldiers with a little taste of home.
Gardiner Community Church members gather on a Saturday morning in their library once a quarter to compile goodies for Boxing Day, their regular preparation of care packages to U.S. Air Force tactical air controllers serving in the Middle East. Tactical air controllers advise on the best use of air power, such as pinpointing targets for air attacks.
On Feb. 19, the church gathered items — baked goods, snacks and personal items like socks — and packed them in military-authorized bulk rate boxes.
Diane Martin, event coordinator, said the group packs about 35 boxes each time they meet.
“I think it’s a great ministry,” Martin said. “We have a fantastic group who help out. Vendors have been resourceful donating cookies and other items, bubble wrap, and the church and community donating baked goods and their time.”
Boxing Day in Gardiner always honors the memory of Master Sgt. Scott McDaniel, an Air Force tactical air control party member who died after a tour of duty in Iraq in 2007.
Shortly thereafter, Austin brought the idea of sending care packages before the church’s Women of Faith ministry group, who opened the event up to the whole church.
They packaged 19 boxes at their first event on Jan. 26, 2008, and inserted McDaniel’s photo and a letter with his story into each box.
McDaniel’s mom, Laura, and his two sons, Connor, 9, and Colin, 7, were in attendance at the Feb. 19 event.
As long as there is a war
Martin said the church would continue the ministry as long as there is a war.
Since starting, they’ve received letters, e-mails and even a phone call from appreciative soldiers.
Master Sgt. Matthew Schleich wrote a heart-filled thank you letter to the church for their care packages.
“Items inside were the perfect gifts to remind the men of home and bring a smile to their faces,” Schleich wrote.
Martin said church members try their best to include items soldiers cannot obtain easily.
“They let us know if they have special needs, like socks,” Martin said.
“We made it our mission to put a pair in every box. It really meant a lot to them and they were in such a position that they can’t get those things that they want.”
Items are transported to soldiers in rural areas in a number of ways, including by mule, Martin said.
An average of 8-10 people package the boxes in about an hour at each event; support comes from a number of sources.
“Local grocers and the post office have been very helpful with donations and handling the packaging,” Martin said.
Each shipment costs about $450. Donations come from church members, neighbors and sometimes strangers who like the cause.
Before the boxes are sent, Austin invites servicemen and women up front at the Sunday service to pray over the boxes and for the soldiers’ safety.
Gardiner Community Church, 1040 Old Gardiner Road, holds its Sunday service at 10:30 a.m. The church can be reached at 797-0044.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.