BRIGHTON — Traci Mendez’s eighth-grade reading class at Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School recently learned how much magazines, letters and snacks mean to troops serving overseas when Gina Buhlmaier visited Nov. 13 to tell them about Loving Our Heroes.
Buhlmaier founded the nonprofit organization several months after her son Kory was deployed by the Air Force to Saudi Arabia in July 2014. Like any caring mother, she wanted to make his life a little more comfortable, so she sent him a package filled with nonperishable goodies. His response opened her eyes.
“He said so many guys don’t get anything from home, so he let them take some of his stuff,” said Buhlmaier, of Okeechobee. “He asked me to send two packages next time, one for him and one to share. That’s how it all started.”
She began sending about five boxes a week. In September 2014 she formed Loving Our Heroes to raise money to send more. Each box is sent through the U.S. Postal Service priority mail APO/FPO flat rate box, which costs about $16 to mail and close to $50 more to fill. The packages go to troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in all branches of the military.
The class’s involvement in Loving Our Heroes serves two purposes: to help troops and to participate in a contest that will be part of Celebrate Literacy Week in January 2016. The contest is for service projects that promote good citizenship and enhance literacy, while serving the community.
Buhlmaier did not arrive at PECS empty-handed; she brought five boxes already filled with candy, crackers, cookies, chips, drink mix, shelf-stable fruit cups and more. The students were prepared with magazines and letters, which they added to the packages.
Kamani Smith, 14, has a few cousins in the military and was happy to help.
“We’re helping soldiers,” Kamani said. “If my family wasn’t able to send things, I’m sure they would appreciate it. Everyone loves a taste of home, no matter where you are.”
Soldiers often reply to letters and put them, along with pictures and photographs, on a morale wall on base.
“They sacrifice and miss out on so much at home,” Buhlmaier said. “Even if they don’t know you, the packages and letters mean so much.”
Loving Our Heroes sent 140 care packages last year and aims to send 340 by the end of 2015. Buhlmaier always seeks donations of healthy snacks, nonperishable food, microwavable food in its own bowl and toiletries. She said jerky is a favorite of the soldiers, but they also enjoy trail mix, granola bars, fruit cups, drink mix packages, peanut butter, tuna and Nutella.
The care packages go to specific people, who Buhlmaier finds through her son, his friends or other people who know soldiers serving overseas. Troops can also find the organization on Facebook and request a package.
“I think it’s good because you are helping the soldiers and telling them you care about them,” said Kaleb Doctor, 13.
After the class activity, Buhlmaier left with the five boxes ready to take to the post office, plenty of magazines for future care packages and a check from the PECS Parent Teacher Student Organization for $500.
For more information, visit www. www.Facebook.com/LovingOurHeroes or GoFundMe.com/LovingOurHeroes.