By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN “You may think that a box of goodies or a letter is a small thing, but to us, it’s home, and it’s a portal away from here for a brief moment.”
US Army soldier Adan Arevalo’s letter to the Delano chapter of Operation Minnesota Nice (OMN) expresses a sentiment shared by many who are deployed overseas.
“Many of them get little or no mail,” Delano OMN member Ann Reese said. “It’s that little bit of joy you can give them.”
According to Reese, OMN is a great organization for people who want to help others, but also have busy schedules.
“It’s not a big time commitment,” she said. “When I joined, I was working full time, and I didn’t have a lot of time for volunteering. This was perfect for me.”
People who “adopt” deployed soldiers are responsible for sending them one care package each month.
The boxes are partially filled during monthly packing meetings.
“We have nine members right now, so each person brings nine of the same item to the meeting,” Reese explained. “It could be anything, like socks or granola bars.”
After the meeting, members take one box home to fill with extra items, personalized for their soldier.
Typically, members use medium-sized flat-rate boxes, because it is relatively inexpensive to ship that way.
At the post office, members record the package weight, so it can be tracked by OMN. As of Dec. 1, OMN has shipped a total of 585,263 pounds, and helped 12,714 soldiers.
“That’s all of the different units,” Reese said. “I think it’s pretty phenomenal.”
When soldiers become part of OMN, they have the opportunity to fill out a sheet with information about their hobbies and interests.
“It’s always nice when they tell you what they’d like,” Reese said. “Then, you can make it special for them.”
Caring and giving
Reese first adopted Arevalo when he was in Iraq three years ago. When he was deployed a second time, to Afghanistan, Reese adopted him again.
They sent photos of their families to each other, and developed a faraway friendship.
“. . . I would like you to know you have made these deployments mean something to me, and have given me more than you can imagine,” Arevalo wrote to Reese and her family.
Because Arevalo is coming home soon, Reese has now adopted a new soldier, from Cloquet.
On the back of the sheet he filled out for OMN, he wrote “It’s people like you who make America great . . . . With more people like you, we could change the world.”
“It makes you feel like, ‘wow,’ you’re actually making an impact in someone’s life,” Reese said.
Getting a letter from a soldier is rare, according to Reese, so OMN treasures each one.
Delano OMN conducted a bake sale at the American Legion in the spring, and is using the proceeds to send care packages to four local soldiers Robert Kiscaden, Paul Orvis, and Arthur Wemhoff of Delano, and Evan Skreen of Maple Plain.
“These four are not adopted by any of us,” Reese said. “We wanted to give back to the community.”
Delano OMN meets the first Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Delano American Legion. New members are welcome, and donations of any kind are also appreciated.
“If anyone knows of a deployed soldier, OMN is looking for names and addresses, so these guys can be able to come for adoption,” Reese added.
To see the statewide OMN website, go to http://www.operationminnesotanice.com/
Those interested in becoming an individual or business supporter can contact Reese at (763) 972-1299, or Darlene Hayes at (763) 972-2956.