|At this time of year, most of us are bustling around trying to prepare for visitors, getting ready to travel to visitors and throwing holiday cards down the chute at the post office as fast as we can.
Meanwhile, in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, there are soldiers, sailors, airmen and U.S. Marines recovering from painful burns. Some are learning how to use prosthetic devices. Some of them have wounds that don’t show on the outside.
Those wounds that don’t show are growing in number. Lee Ann Newton, the executive aide at MTSU’s Tennessee STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Center, says military suicides are at a 30-year high.
“The military make up 10 percent of the United States population and they make up 20 percent of United States suicides,” Newton said.
That’s why she started Operation Christmas Care six years ago. Newton collects cards every year around this time and sends them to wounded warriors.
Newton places boxes around town at participating locations such as the Linebaugh Public Library, Beaman Dodge, Reeves-Sain Drug Store and Bob Parks Realty. People are welcome to emblazon the cards with a handwritten, heart-felt message.
Contributions may reference Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or no holiday at all. They can be “get well soon” cards. They can be “thinking of you” cards. All that matters is that the message be positive and nonpolitical.
Another thing you have to keep in mind is not to put these cards into envelopes.
“A lot of these soldiers are amputees or burn victims, and so they can’t open the envelopes,” Newton said.
She also collects presents to send to the wounded. The list of acceptable items includes DVDs, CDs, slipper socks, fleece blankets and hooded sweatshirts. There are more on the “Operation Christmas Care” website, unclesamsheroes.com.
“Last year, I received over 800 pounds of items by comparison to 120 the year before,” Newton recalled. “People want to do more.”
Newton had footed the bill for the postage until three years ago, when she began accepting “Pennies for Postage” to help defray the costs of delivery.
The cards and gifts go to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany; Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.; and Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
The December holiday deadline was Dec. 7, but Newton said, counting late arrivals, she received more than 50,000 cards this year, more than ever before. Now she’s collecting Valentine’s Day cards to send by Feb. 14.
Newton says her plans for the end of 2013 are her most challenging ever. She wants to get cards bound into booklet form and printed for distribution to every military hospital around the world.
To contribute to “Operation Christmas Care” or to find out more information visit www.unclesamsheroes.com.