HJ/EDHerald Journal, Nov. 21, 2005

LP resident sends care packages to soliders in Iraq

By Dave Cox
Staff Writer

Terri Bestul of Lester Prairie has never been to Iraq.

She has never been in the military or been deployed to a foreign country.

Bestul has not experienced these things, but she has thought about what it must be like for the men and women who are serving their country in foreign lands, thousands of miles from their friends and families, without any of the things that most of us take for granted.

That vision led Bestul to find a way that she could help individual soldiers.

It started when her brother, Lynn Buss, was serving in Iraq during the Gulf War.

Bestul sent care packages to Buss to let him know that she was thinking of him.

From her brother, Bestul heard about other soldiers who rarely received any mail from home. She began asking for names of these soldiers, so that she could include items for them, as well.

In 2003, even though her brother was back home, Bestul began to think about other soldiers who were deployed overseas.

“They are such heroes to me,” Bestul said. “I have so much respect for them. I can’t imagine what it would be like for me to be over there. I know I need them.”

She found out that a Winsted resident, Sean Drew, was serving in Iraq. Bestul did not know Drew, but she had gone to school with his father, Steve Drew, so she decided that this would be a good place to start.

She sent a package to Drew, and she asked for names of soldiers in his unit who were not receiving mail from home, so she could include items for them in her mailings.

Bestul said that in 1991, when she began sending care packages to her brother, parcels could be addressed to “any soldier,” but the world has changed, and now, packages need to be addressed to specific soldiers.

This did not stop her. She asked people she knew for names of other soldiers that might be in need. She also included extra items in her shipments, and asked the recipients to share them with other people in their unit that were not getting mail of their own.

In some cases, she has been able to exchange e-mail addresses with soldiers, and has corresponded with them, asking them what they need.

Bestul has sent everything from toilet paper to a microwave oven.

The microwave was the result of a request from soldiers in an area that did not have cooking facilities.

Bestul heard about this, and tracked down an inexpensive microwave at Wal-Mart, and included it with her next shipment.

She later received a letter from the soldiers who had received it, saying that they had been using it ever since, and telling her how much they appreciated it.

“People in some of the forward operating bases only get four hot meals a week,” Bestul remarked.

Most of the time, Bestul sends small items that soldiers can keep under their bunks, because their space is very limited.

Hygiene items such as razors and toothpaste are popular.

Bestul also likes to include books, games, and sports equipment that the soldiers can use to relieve stress during their down times.

When her brother came home from his deployment to Iraq, Bestul met him at Fort Riley, Kan.

Seeing the difference between soldiers who had family members there to meet them, and those who did not, made a deep impression on her. It made her even more determined to do whatever she could to make sure that soldiers were getting something from home, whether she knew them or not.

“It can really hurt the morale of soldiers when mail call comes around, and there is nothing there for them,” Bestul said.

While she was in Kansas, Bestul had the opportunity to meet some of the members of her brother’s unit who had received items from her care packages. They talked to her about how important mail call is to a soldier.

Bestul is amazed at the impact her donations have had.

Soldiers share items with others, and these simple acts of kindness can touch many lives.

One letter surprised her.

She had sent a package to a soldier from St. Cloud, and he had shared it with some people he was serving with.

One of these turned out to be Sgt. Cris Cuadros of Winsted. He wrote to Bestul and told her what it meant to him to receive a package from someone he did not even know, that lived so close to his hometown.

Bestul is quick to point out that what she is doing is not about her, it is about the soldiers.

Her goal is to share some comfort with people who are away, serving the country. She wants to let them know that someone thousands of miles away in a small town in Minnesota is thinking about them, and appreciates what they are doing.

In the past, Bestul has purchased items for the shipments herself. This year, when she was thinking about a shipment she was getting ready to send Nov. 15, to arrive in time for Christmas, and she decided to ask her friends for help.

She realized that the more people that get involved, the more soldiers would be included.

She asked people to donate whatever they could, and said she would take care of the shipping.

Toiletries, games, books and DVDs are all welcome. Candy and gum are also popular.

“Think about what you would want if you were in that situation, of if you were going camping. If it is something you would need, it is probably something a soldier would need, too,” Bestul said.

“I will not turn anything down,” she said, but asked that any donated items are delivered to her unwrapped, because it is her name on the customs form, and she needs to be sure that none of the items are on the list of prohibited items.

“People can donate anything, even things as small as a pack of gum, or the spare change from under their couch cushions to help with shipping costs. It is all appreciated,” Bestul said.

People have responded to her request.

Stephanie Gillman contacted her and asked if the members of the National Honor Society from Holy Trinity School in Winsted could help collect donations.

Lavon Kielkucki asked if her preschool and kindergarten classes at St. Pius School in Glencoe could help.

Several women offered to donate camouflage fleece blankets.

“People don’t realize that it can get quite cold over there, especially in the mountains of Afghanistan,” Bestul commented.

Bestul sees the need as a long-term issue.

“It seems like it is on the back burner now. You hear about the bad things on television, but people sometimes forget about the people that are still over there serving their country,” she said.

“I don’t see this ending any time soon,” Bestul remarked.

How to help

Bestul plans to make a shipment Saturday, Dec. 3, and another one in January. Those wishing to donate items can contact her at (320) 395-4175 or via e-mail at gtfarm@earthlink.net

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