Courier Staff Writer
A U.S. congressman brought blank Christmas cards to Iowa so citizens could send a touch of home to military personnel serving overseas.
Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, celebrated his 500th in-state event for this year by joining employees at North Hy-Vee to host a card-writing party Saturday so troops still overseas could be assured of a Christmas message from one of the Americans they’re busy serving.
“I’m prior military, and I know what it’s like to be away from home,” said Kelly Ableman of Ottumwa, a U.S. Navy veteran.
Getting a card at “mail call” can be an uplifting experience, she said.
Loebsack got the idea from the Red Cross, which stops by the U.S. House of Representatives around Christmas each year asking senators, representatives and congressional aides to sign cards to be distributed through the Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program, which delivers holiday cards to active-duty and former service members at hospitals and installations around the world.
“That’s what inspired us to try that here, in the district,” Loebsack said.
There was no quota for the event, no number the congressman hoped to reach. In between welcoming card writers who either took a break from their shift at the store or who drove to Hy-Vee specifically to participate, Loebsack himself penned card after card, starting with, “Dear Friend.”
Pat Gooden of Ottumwa married a U.S. Marine many years ago and feels empathy for those serving away from their families over the holidays.
“My heart breaks for every one of them,” she said. “You don’t want them to ever think they are forgotten.”
She, too, sat at a table in the dining area where she wrote multiple cards.
The Red Cross website says the cards and personal messages are sent by tens of thousands of Americans each year. One of Loebsack’s aides said in the hour or so the congressman was at Hy-Vee, they collected 200 cards with messages written by hand.
Or, in a few special cases, drawn by hand.
“A Christmas tree, me and my mom, and a deer,” said Madelynne Cavin, age 6, holding up the card she’d just finished.
What kind of deer?
“A reindeer,” she said.
“I drew Santa Clause, a Christmas tree, a snowman and two snowflakes,” said her brother, Isaac, 9.
Their mom, Ina, is the store director. She thought it was important to have her kids participate.
“I wanted them to learn what it was about,” she said.
“Look at this,” Loebsack said. “One lady heard about this in the paper. She’s from Fairfield and knew she wouldn’t have time to stop here [to write cards]. So she filled out an entire box of cards herself and dropped them off here.”
All of the cards from Saturday can make a difference in a warrior’s life, he said.
“I’ve been overseas delivering these cards to service members before,” said Loebsack. “It means so much to them.”