When Susan Manns discovered she could not have a child, she was heartbroken. The born nurturer had held hopes of being a mother. Seeking a way to allay her pain, Manns decided to adopt a young soldier and play the role of his “army mom.”
“I started sending him boxes and after getting into it, we realized there are so many guys over there that don’t hear from home. I found out the number of the guys from his unit.. you know these kids are over there and once a month I would send a box. When he came home, I got the name of another kid and did the same thing. It grew from there so much that in 2011, it went full-time through our church,” stated Manns.
Currently Manns and The First Freewill Baptist Church of Kosciusko County send out boxes that reach 300 soldiers every month. According to Manns, last year the ministry $8,000 worth of boxes to soldiers over 12 months.
Recently, troops received special Halloween themed treat bags packaged by families and individuals throughout Kosciusko County during the annual “Operation Treat a Soldier” drive put on by the church. A total of 324 treat bags, filled with candies and items that would remind the soldiers of home, were collected from members of the community. In addition, each bag held a personalized note for a soldier, written by the donor or members of the ministry.
The 324 treat bags were packed into 26 boxes weighing a total of 827 pounds. Though many wish to add extra candies or items to their treat bag, Manns noted the importance of staying within weight allotment due to the cost of shipping. A total of $1,300 was needed to mail the treat bags this year.
Though collections for Operation Treat A Soldier has concluded and troops have begun receiving their treat bags, an additional chance to honor those serving is coming up. Treasures for Troops will begin gathering donations in stockings to send to soldiers during the holiday season. Collections of stockings will begin by Tuesday, Nov. 14 and will conclude Monday, Dec. 1.
Those interested in creating a stocking may pick up a donation list from Warsaw Community Public Library, the Outdoor Living Center, the Vein Institute and Medical Spa or Silver Lake Lake City Bank. A letter and list with instructions will be available.
“Most of the time, to fill either one (stocking or treat bag) it costs about $10 to $12,” stated Manns. “I don’t provide the stockings, I have people buy one. The most important thing that goes into the bag or stocking is a letter from home. I hear all the time ‘I heard from a soldier who got my stocking or my treat bag.’ There are so many over there who don’t hear from home, when they are handed your stocking or treat bag, they are personally hearing from you. They are hearing from someone back home…This is a way for them to be personally handed something tangible from home… A way to say, ‘I appreciate what you are doing, we are thinking about you and praying for you.”
Manns stressed the importance of following the packaging instructions due to weight limitations and shipping cost. Manns also noted donors may contribute $1 to $2 to help offset shipping costs. Last year a total of 400 stockings were reportedly collected during Treasures for Troops.
“Every stocking and treat bag is a soldier who hears from home. Christmas is so hard for them, its horrible for them. They miss their families. Every bag represents someone who cares about them from home, someone who is thinking of them,” explained Manns.