When Donna Carter started sending holiday cards through Parkway Community Church, she thought of an idea to help military members overseas sitting in hospital beds, who might struggle opening an envelope.
The thought was simple: tear the card in half and write a message to create a makeshift postcard.
But it’s an important one to Carter, a Frederick resident who helped the church send 3,496 cards in 2019 through Operation Gratitude, a national nonprofit aiming to send packages and letters to those serving overseas during the holiday season.
“They can take a card and look at it, where they don’t have to tear it open … [it’s] something about when you close your eyes and think about the look on their face, the excitement they have knowing that somebody cared enough to send them a card … it’s just the pure pleasure of it all,” Carter said.
Carter and the church have sent cards to military members overseas for the past four years. In 2016, they sent 1,517 cards. By 2018, that number jumped to 3,333 cards, she said.
The process started when June Lamb, a member of St. Timothy Catholic Church in Walkersville, approached Parkway Community Church about participating in Operation Gratitude in 2016. Carter said because it was so late in the year, Lamb caught the church off guard.
That’s because the cards must be sent to Operation Gratitude before Thanksgiving, in order to allow the nonprofit to review the cards, Carter said. Card writers can sign only first names, and are not allowed to write “Thank you for your service” or similar phrases.
The cards are simply meant to wish those serving happy holidays and a happy new year.
“They want it to be more homey, more friendly … more personal,” Carter said.
Pastor Howard Ruley, who has been at the church for 26 years, said the card-giving is a sign of his congregation’s patriotic spirit, and overall appreciation for those serving.
It’s an easy gesture, but it can mean a lot to those military members, he said.
“We’re taking ownership of something that we can do to make a little difference,” Ruley said. “It’s a simple task to bring some joy into someone’s life, and the Christmas season can be a very exciting season, but it can also be lonely for many.”
Carter’s daughter, Stephanie, 27, has been at her mom’s side since the card giving started four years ago.
Much like Donna and Ruley, she said the job is simple, but important.
“What’s funny is to know a card … [it’s] a small thing, but at the same time it’s so personal,” Stephanie said. “We hand-write them and give it to them, it’s so heartwarming to know we can do something, even if it’s this small.”
Donna Carter admitted it was difficult to get volunteers the first year. She and Stephanie would often fill out the cards while watching TV, using a template of messages and signing them for hours at a time.
But then, Ruley received a letter from Operation Gratitude showing how much the military members appreciated the gesture.
That changed people’s minds. Volunteers weren’t so hard to get now.
“People’s [ears have] perked up and they were like, ‘yeah, this is really going to the guys, this is really helping’ and so more cards came in and I’m happy that each year, we’ve grown more and more,” she said.
“It was pretty exciting to get them involved and watch them go from being skeptical about sending cards to ‘yeah, whoa, I’ll bring you some cards,’” Donna added.
Next year is already looking bright, she said — more than 500 cards have been collected at the church.
If people have extra holiday cards, they can donate them to area churches that participate in Project Gratitude, Donna said.
“This is a worthwhile project. … Why not, instead of throwing them in the trash, donate them to a church that’s doing it?” she said.
© 2019 The Frederick News-Post
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