Share Holiday Cheer!

The Holiday Mail for Heroes program is an avenue for people to share their appreciation of those who have served our country. The goal is to give service members and Veterans a little holiday cheer by presenting them with letters and cards of thanks.

This year, we are collecting hand-made or store bought cards. Plus, we have JUMBO cards around the state and at special events for residents to sign.  We kicked-off the campaign at the state Capitol.  Cards received by December 11th will be sorted and then presented at common Wisconsin venues, military installations, VA Hospitals, State Veteran Homes and more.

IMG_2134Get in the holiday spirit and send us your best cards! We’ll do the rest!  Here are few guidelines to get you going:

What is the Holiday Mail for Heroes Program? Since 2006, the American Red Cross has received and distributed nearly 10 million holiday cards for members of the U.S. Armed Forces and Veterans. The Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program enables Americans to “Give Something That Means Something” this holiday season by signing and sending cards of thanks, encouragement and holiday cheer to members of our U.S. Armed Forces and Veterans.

I don’t know anyone in the military; how do I participate? You don’t need to know anyone in the military. Red Cross workers will distribute signed cards from the community to members of the military and Veterans right here in Wisconsin.

Cards are not addressed to anyone specific, so who gets these cards? We will distribute cards to service members and Veterans throughout Wisconsin. Cards will be handed to service members and Veterans, or displayed at common venues in military installations and hospitals.

Can I drop cards off at my local Red Cross office? Yes, your created cards can be dropped off by December 11th at your local Red Cross office or even better mail them to: American Red Cross, 4860 Sheboygan Avenue, Madison, WI 53705

Will my card be distributed to our troops overseas? Our National office has shipped cards to military bases around the globe so your cards will make the holiday brighter throughout Wisconsin.

What is the goal for the 2015 Holiday Mail for Heroes Program? The goal is to share season’s greeting and holiday cheer to the members of our Armed Forces and Veterans, creating millions of smiles.

Are there other restrictions and guidelines for cards? In order to make cards as meaningful as possible to a wide audience, choose or create  “Happy Holiday” cards and use generic titles such as “Dear Service Member, or Veteran” when writing cards.  Cards should not contain:

  • Glitter that could aggravate existing health issues.
  • Enclosures such as money calling cards, photos, or other gifts.
  • Complete mailing address.  (City and State are okay)
  • Email addresses.

Can I include money in the cards? Please do not enclose money with the holiday cards. If you wish to provide financial support for Red Cross services to the military, please donate online.

How can I find out more information about the Holiday Mail program?

Dying Mother Saves Son from Death

Written by Barbara Behling, Communications Director

In honor of the many men and women who have served our country and continue to serve, we thank you today and everyday for your service. 

VeteransDay

Even from a deathbed, a mother can save a child. This was the case for Neil Starke, serving in the US Coast Guard during WWII. Thanks to the American Red Cross Services to Armed Forces program he was able to share her last breaths, a visit which also saved his own life.

In the heart of WWII, the USS El Paso was situated at 114° North & 120° East. From these decks, air & sea rescues off the Philippines coasts were conducted. It was in the heart of the fighting, he received a cablegram from the Red Cross which explained his father had fallen while riding a bus, with trauma to his head, he was sent to a mental institution. Meanwhile, in another hospital, his dying mother yearned to see her son one last time. His superior officers granted permission for a 38-day leave of absence. It was this stroke of timing that saved his life.

SONY DSCNeil was taken off one ship, sailed to land on another and then boarded a military plane to fly back to the states. Altogether, the journey took two weeks. While at his mother’s bedside, he shared stories, a smile and the unmistakable touch of a mother’s hand until her passing.  Even today, when sharing his story, he remains visibly shaken.

Now with tears in his eyes, it was time to return to duty. “It was the first time I heard my father’s voice falter when saying good-bye.” Neil explains. By military plane, he flew back to the base and was ready to rejoin his ship. He waited a week. Then two, he was eager to join his team. “It was ironic and a blessing, I was pulled off that ship as it was declared lost in the Yellow Sea typhoon.  While I never saw any man I served with again; the vessel was found two-weeks later. The boilers had been destroyed so it must have been tossing around like a toy in a washing machine,” Neil concluded.

A short-time thereafter, an international peace agreement was signed. The war was over. “Until that cable gram, I had been mad at the Red Cross about $.15 lemonade that tasted awful.  Then I learned the greater meaning of their work. It allowed me to be with my mother in those final days and it also saved my life.”

The Service to the Armed Forces division of the American Red Cross helps our military members and their families across the world with one primary function being Emergency Communications. If family needs to get in touch with a service member while they are on active duty, they can call the Red Cross Emergency Communication line for the military at 1-877-272-7337. The Red Cross will get family in touch, and provide vital verification services so that commanding officers can make informed decisions about emergency leave. The Red Cross is the only organization entrusted with this responsibility because of our longstanding history with the military, as well as our Fundamental Principles of Neutrality and Impartiality.

More than 2.1 Million Cards Sent through Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes

Red Cross Follow-Up:

Holiday Cards Distributed to Members of the Military Across the Globe

Students from Franklin Elementary read their letters and cards to the Veterans at the Wisconsin Veteran's Home at King.

Students from Franklin Elementary in Oshkosh read their letters and cards to the Veterans at the Wisconsin Veteran’s Home at King.

People across the country sent in more than 2.1 million cards to the 2013 American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes project, a record level of holiday greetings for members of the United States military, Veterans and their families.

The cards bearing messages of thanks and gratitude were distributed by the Red Cross all over the world, on military bases and in military hospitals, Veteran’s hospitals and to military families in the U.S. and abroad. This was the seventh year for the project which allows people to send holiday well wishes to members of the Armed Forces, their families and the country’s Veterans

Cards came from people from all walks of life: church groups, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, clubs, businesses, families and thousands of school children. Ten National Football League teams supported the program by helping host card-signing events at games.

“Americans continue to show their unwavering support for the U.S. military in the more than 2 million cards sent through the 2013 Holiday Mail for Heroes program,” said Sherri Brown, senior vice president, Service to the Armed Forces for the Red Cross. “We thank everyone who took time to express their thanks and holiday wishes to help make the holidays a little brighter for those who serve our country.”

2,944 cards collected from the employees of Humana from their three locations in Green Bay.

2,944 cards collected from the employees of Humana from their three locations in Green Bay.

Locally, we collected around 50,000 cards for the state of Wisconsin.

The cards went to a special post office box for screening, packaging and were shipped to Red Cross offices around the world. Volunteers took time out of their busy holiday schedules to help screen, sort and deliver the holiday greetings to the military, veterans and their families.

Holiday Mail for Heroes began in December 2007 when Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. approached the Red Cross to assist in distributing thousands of holiday cards to hospitalized servicemen and women. The program has grown to become a nationwide effort to honor and remember the nation’s military during the holiday season.

Holiday Mail for Heroes is part of the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces program. For more than 130 years, the Red Cross has provided comfort and support to troops – including the 2 million current members, 24 million veterans and the families who support all of them.

My Challenge Coin Giveaway

By Patty Flowers, CEO, Eastern Wisconsin Region

(l-r) Patty Flowers with Adrianne Benson holding the coin.

(l-r) Patty Flowers with Adrianne Benson holding the coin.

For nearly a century, military personnel have created personalized challenge coins to honor exceptional individuals.

History says that a World War I flying ace had medallions printed for his unit to recognize their loyalty.  One of these men was shot down in Europe and captured by the Germans.  He actually was able to escape only to be captured by the French who thought he was German.  By producing his coin, he proved what unit he was from and apparently saved his life because the French were going to execute him.  What a story!  Challenge coins have lived on throughout the years and are still used to this day to honor individuals.  Military personnel collect these coins as though they are badges of honor.

So how did I, a non-military person, have the privilege of giving away a challenge coin?  The Tiffany Circle is a society of women philanthropists who support the American Red Cross with a generous annual gift in support of many programs and services.  I am a member of Tiffany circle and each year in May there is a summit of women from across the country who gather in Washington DC to learn more about the Red Cross and network to further their Circles back home.  For the last two years at the summit meeting, all attendees received a coin with specific instructions challenging us to uphold this honored tradition by giving away the coin to an individual that is very deserving.  Since last May, I’ve carried my coin in my work bag always looking for just the right occasion to depart with it, until recently.

Please allow me to introduce Adrianne Benson who is in the photograph with me.  Adrianne is a Non-Commissioned Officer in Civil Affairs with the U.S. Army Reserve based in Green Bay.  In her 14 years with the Army she has worked with diverse populations, led humanitarian projects, and served as liaison for several government bodies.  She also served in Afghanistan.  In addition to serving in the military, she is raising a family, is an active volunteer in the community, and she is also attending University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh full-time to earn a Bachelor of Arts International Studies degree.  Through the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh, Adrianne is part of the AmeriCorps Vet Corps program and has accepted an internship with us through March of 2014.  We are delighted to have her helping with our Service to Armed Forces programs and know she will bring a new perspective that none of us can bring to the table.  Adrianne recently told the story of receiving holiday cards from the Red Cross while she was in Afghanistan.  She said she posted the cards on the wall above her bed and they made her smile because she knew someone in the U.S. was thinking of her.  The Holiday Mail For Heroes program is one that Adrianne will be working on while interning with us and she is proof that these cards make a difference!

I am very proud to give my coin to Adrianne and know that she will always cherish it in the spirit it was given.  Thank you for your service, Adrianne.  We all appreciate you.

Holiday Mail for Heroes

Each year the American Red Cross provides assistance to more than 2 million service members and many of our nation’s 24 million veterans. We support military families, military and veterans hospitals and provide emergency communications across the globe. And once a year, we get the joy of delivering holiday cards to veterans, military families and active-duty service members at hospitals and installations around the world.

The cards and personal messages, sent by tens of thousands of Americans, provide a welcome “touch of home” for our troops during the holiday season.

Visit our YouTube channel to see Red Cross volunteers distributing cards and messages in previous years: Holiday Mail for Heroes YouTube playlist.

Each year we collect cards between October and early December and then distribute them at military installations, veterans hospitals, and in other locations.

Throughout the year, you can make a difference with a monetary gift to Help Military Families through the Red Cross. Your donation can help change a military family’s life. Donate Now.

There are several ways to be part of the Holiday Mail for Heroes program. In addition to sending cards on your own, you may want to start making plans to host card signing parties or card making parties. Here are a few guidelines to help you on your way:

Card Guidelines:

Every card received will be screened for hazardous materials by Pitney Bowes and then reviewed by Red Cross volunteers working around the country.

Please observe the following guidelines to ensure a quick reviewing process:

  • Ensure that all cards are signed.
  • Use generic salutations such as “Dear Service Member.” Cards addressed to specific individuals can not be delivered through this program.
  • Only cards are being accepted. Do not send or include letters.
  • Do not include email or home addresses on the cards: the program is not meant to foster pen pal relationships.
  • Do not include inserts of any kind, including photos: these items will be removed during the reviewing process.
  • Please refrain from choosing cards with glitter or using loose glitter as it can aggravate health issues of ill and injured warriors.
  • If you are mailing a large quantity of cards, please bundle them and place them in large mailing envelopes or flat rate postal shipping boxes. Each card does not need its own envelope, as envelopes will be removed from all cards before distribution.
All holiday greetings should be addressed and sent to:

Holiday Mail for Heroes

P.O. Box 5456 Capitol Heights

MD 20791-5456

The deadline for having cards to the P.O. Box is Friday, December 7th. Holiday cards received after this date cannot be guaranteed delivery.

Military Appreciation Cruise hosted by the Fond du Lac Yacht Club

Red Cross Brings Military Families Together

Kathryn Bracho

By Kathryn Bracho: Click HERE for video of story.

Last year, Action 2 News anchor Sarah Thomsen tore up the floor in the Dancing with the Stars fundraiser for the American Red Cross’s local Lakeland Chapter.

This year, Action 2 News morning anchor Kathryn Bracho steps out. Each vote for your favorite dancer is a donation to the Red Cross (click here for details).

It’s a fun experience and raised money for an organization which helps thousands of people across Northeast Wisconsin.

The Red Cross provides a service not many people know about.

Most of us know the Red Cross is there after disasters like Hurricane Katrina or, more locally, a fire at your home.

But you may not know the Red Cross helps hard-to-reach members of the military get news and the emergency leave time they need when big events happen in their families, like deaths, serious illnesses, and births.

“I am there to help people in any way I can,” Gayle Hein said.

Hein says she’s proud to be a Red Cross volunteer. She never realized that her own family would need help from the Red Cross.

“Right before Christmas, my nephew’s mother had passed away unexpectedly at 49.”

Hein’s nephew, Kenneth Lehr, of Watertown, Wisconsin, was stationed with the Army in Alaska.

Lehr knew about his mom’s death, but standard procedure is for the Red Cross to confirm a death, birth, or serious illness so that the military member can get emergency leave.

“I think it was a godsend to him to get him home and stuff. I think otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to come home.”

Gayle Hein (on the left) volunteering at the Marine Corp welcome home event.