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Where there is a need

Sat., July 5, 2008, midnight

The table in a small room at Valley Fourth Memorial Church is mounded with food, candy, gum and ChapStick. Homemade cookies in vacuum sealed plastic bags fill a large box. Empty boxes line the wall, labeled with addresses that will send them to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The women who are members of Helping our Military Eternally Team Support bustle around the table, stuffing large zip-top bags with treats. This is the third time the group has sent packages to members of the military who they pray for daily and to whom they send birthday cards and letters to.

The ministry got its start a year ago when church member Craig Holmes was celebrating his wedding anniversary and got a call from his son, who had just been notified he was going to Iraq. He approached the church about forming a military support group. “The church was open to that,” Holmes said. “I got up and made an announcement. It was just absolutely amazing, the response of people.”

The group now has about eight core volunteers, with many more helping occasionally or making donations. “We didn’t actively recruit any of them,” he said. “They just came. Since that time it’s just mushroomed.”

The group has about 60 people on a monthly prayer calendar, praying for one or two each day. Not all are serving overseas currently, but all of them have some link to Valley Fourth Memorial even if they’ve never set foot in Spokane Valley. “We have not refused a single name given to us,” he said. “It might be someone’s grandchild or nephew. They have some tie to people of the church.”

They plan to send packages about four times a year. The boxes mostly contain food and candy, but also include letters from children, a magazine and things like foot powder and Tylenol. “The two biggest winners are homemade baked cookies from our ladies and paintings from children. They become wallpaper of the tents in Iraq. There’s something about cookies and men in their 20s that’s a match.”

The package that went out recently included cool ties made by the women of the church out of old bed sheets purchased at Goodwill. When soaked in water and draped around the neck, they help cool people down. People donated a mismatch of items, so some boxes got things that others didn’t, like the IcyHot pain relief patches. “We’re going to trust that whoever has a bad back is going to get one of these,” said volunteer Barbara Park. “God is in charge.”

Michele Calvert arrived at the church with a bag of freshly baked cookies to help out. She’d heard about the effort from her son’s Air Force recruiter when she asked how she could volunteer to help soldiers. “This is great,” she said. “I’ve been looking for something like this for a year. I had a blast making cookies. Now I know to bring other things, too.”

Items like top ramen are popular, along with beef jerky, crackers, single-serve packets of macaroni and cheese and any kind of candy or cookies that won’t melt in temperatures that can easily top 120 degrees. The recent shipment also included tuna in pouches, granola bars, gum and toothbrushes.

Not every soldier gets a lot of mail. Several have come back to the church to thank the congregation for sending the prized boxes of goodies, and are usually received with a standing ovation. Others send letters expressing their gratitude. “Some of them are out there a long time in the desert,” said Holmes.

Church member Steve Taylor has two sons in the military; one in the Navy, one in the Air Force. “I think it’s probably harder having your kids out there than doing it yourself,” he said. “We look at all those kids on the prayer calendar as our own.”

The program so far has been largely self supporting. People bring money for postage or donate items for the packages. “Money just comes in,” Holmes said.

But he would like to do more. “If we were to stop every ministry in our church, fire all the staff and use all that money, it would still only be a drop in the bucket for the need,” he said. “We need other churches to come alongside.”

“Every church, every neighborhood has somebody serving,” Taylor said. “The need is huge and it’s very simple to do.”

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