With Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas falling within a two-month span, this is traditionally a time of year to be around family. For those who can't, the Hesston Senior Center has stepped up to help over the last several years with the Home for the Holidays drive — sending care packages to Kansas-based military men and women serving overseas.
Hesston Senior Center director Marla Sharp has been in that position with her family and knows how difficult it can be, which has partly driven her commitment to the campaign.
"My husband was in the military when we were first married. He was stationed, a lot of times, on a submarine, so he was out at sea during the holidays. I know what it's like for those families to be separated and the military servicemen and women to be separated from their families at Christmas time," Sharp said. "Even though they willingly are in the service, it's still difficult when they're away from their family and friends."
For seven years now, the Hesston senior center has been spearheading the Home for the Holidays drive, picking up the proverbial torch to carry on the seasonal program after it was discontinued at another senior center within Harvey County.
Last year, 108 boxes were packed up and shipped out from the senior center. While Sharp noted Fort Riley normally provides an address to ship to for Kansas troops, that is a general delivery location — so just where the boxes go once they are mailed out is uncertain.
Boxes can include items ranging from individually-packaged snack and food items, home-baked goods, candy, gum, personal toiletries, sunscreen, games, clothing, CDs, DVDs, books, etc. Those items are being collected at the Hesston Senior Center (108 E. Randall) through Nov. 15.
"We do have a suggested donation list, but it's amazing the kind of items that get brought in; they're very creative. Usually the middle school here in town, the kids will write cards and letters, so that's really special to be able to put those in," Sharp said.
Peppernuts are some of the traditional home-baked goods included in the care packages, Sharp said, while Christmas decorations (so the deployed troops can decorate their bunks, lockers, etc.) are also a popular, unique item that are part of the donations.
Sharp also noted that the senior center has received letters back from the troops in the past, noting how much they appreciate the care packages and how it "brightened their day."
Once all donations are collected, the boxes will be packed up on Nov. 16 to be shipped out. That, Sharp said, is a special time. Like Sharp, there are a number of veterans who look forward to helping with the campaign (having similar holiday experiences). Whether helping pack or donating to the drive, Sharp said it is an extremely worthwhile cause and something from which she takes great pride.
"It's a special time to be participating with all the people involved," Sharp said. "For me, it's knowing those men and women are going to get those boxes because I've been in that situation, but it's just a heartwarming thing to participate in just seeing all these people pack these boxes for soldiers."
Monetary donations are also being accepted to help offset postage costs (checks to HAS Center). Care packages are delivered in USPS large priority mail boxes, which cost $19 each to ship, Sharp said
For more information on the Home for the Holidays drive, check the Hesston Senior Center's Facebook page or call the senior center at 620-327-5099.