Grassroots Project Grows One Stitch at a Time to Provide Gifts for Soldiers Each Holiday Season
GLEN MILLS, PA - Several years ago Maris Grove resident Fannie Kessler traveled around the community with her cloth bag filled with yarn protruding from the top with, the hopes that fellow residents would ask her "what is that?"
This was Mrs. Kessler's distinctive, creative and successful marketing tool - aimed at galvanizing support for a cause dear to her heart - to ensure that U.S. soldiers serving abroad would receive tokens of appreciation each holiday season through the Stockings for Soldiers- Delaware, Inc. (a tax-free Delaware charity) program at Maris Grove.
The program involves resident-created holiday stockings which are sewn by approximately 50 Maris Grove residents who provide colorful, timely and soft festive carriers for a wide variety of items of comfort for soldiers, which are also donated by residents of the active community.
Some of these items include toiletries, playing cards, white cotton socks, non-perishable snacks, lip balm and even hard candies that soldiers can give out to children in war-torn areas.
A whopping nine car loads full of items to be exact.
Four years following the start of the program, and more than 7,000 stockings and tons of emails of gratitude from soldiers later, Fannie, and her partner in this important endeavor, Shirley Hicks, have a lot to be thankful for - both ladies said that they are more than satisfied with the results of the program that has achieved such results under their guidance.
"Shirley, and all who created the stockings and donated items and I are absolutely astonished by the success of this program," said Mrs. Kessler, who has been involved with Stockings for Soldiers for about eight years now, including four years at Maris Grove. "This entire endeavor speaks volumes as to the cooperation, dedication and most importantly, passion that residents have towards putting smiles on the faces of our troops."
During 2011, more than 2,500 stockings were created by these remarkable and caring creators. This undertaking is no easy task and requires a great deal of organization and execution. It also needs passion and dedication according to Mrs. Hicks and Mrs. Kessler. But, it had to begin somewhere...
"I became involved because my daughter was participating in the national Stockings for Soldiers program in Delaware, and once I attended the first meeting and saw what all of them were accomplishing, I knew I too had to get involved," Mrs. Kessler said.
Mrs. Kessler met Mrs. Hicks through the Stockings for Soldiers program at Maris Grove when the later volunteered her time and talents to help the project. Mrs. Hicks was part of the core group of participants and became Mrs. Kessler's close assistant - helping organize meetings, gathering materials and helping interface with the national Stockings for Soldiers organization in Delaware.
"I am very happy that I was able to help in some way," said Mrs. Hicks, who learned to knit and sew as a child. "I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to work with Fannie and had the chance to accomplish all that we have.
Mrs. Hicks worked with U.S. soldiers on leave from the service taking classes as Delaware County Community College at the student Employment Co-Op. Years later, sewing stockings for soldiers and organizing collections to fill them at Maris Grove, has special meaning.
"I became close with the soldiers I worked with and knew that they were sacrificing so much for their country. I always said to myself that someday I wanted to do something for them in return and this is it - being a part of this project, which is so fulfilling for me."
In addition to the creation of the stockings and stuffing of items of comfort, residents also fill the stockings with recycled Christmas cards. Residents donated their Christmas cards to be recycled and sent to troops. There were a total of 6,200 of these cards that have been created.
Stockings are not all that these talented sewers know how to create. They have created knit hats for the troops as well. This year, 200 hats were made as part of the project.
In addition, one resident and his daughter created small pocket-sized writing tablets from paper pads that they received from a local business establishment. Pens were also
donated by the daughter's place of employment. There have been a total of 5,900 pads and 5,000 pens stuffed into stockings to date.
Now, how does one ship all these stockings to the Middle East? It doesn't come cheap. Over $1,000 was collected in donations by residents to ship the packages out this past year to ensure that soldiers have a bright holiday season.
The work that the Maris Grove stocking stuffers have undertaken has not gone unnoticed. In addition to being recognized by the community, some of the soldiers themselves who have received the gifts have voiced their appreciation.
"It (a stuffed stocking) made me smile," wrote one soldier to Fannie Kessler. "During these times of year we really miss our families. I was so excited when I saw a stocking with my name on it. Thank you."
Another soldier wrote, "It made my day and really made me smile. I've been here for about 10 months and will be home with my family around February. Thank you."
"Thanks for all of your support," wrote a third soldier who is serving abroad. "I really appreciate everything our great country does for us. Without your support it would be even harder for us to do what we do. Thanks and happy holidays."
Mrs. Kessler said that she receives a warm feeling from the work that she does and Mrs. Hicks agrees. Organizing the project, sewing the stockings and stuffing them is indeed work but it warms the heart.
"As soon as you see what they are doing it gets to you," Mrs. Kessler said. "Working on the Stockings for Soldiers project becomes a labor of love and it gives me a wonderful feeling. I couldn't imagine not being a part of this extraordinary effort and thank everyone who has also pitched in."
Approximately 1,300 people live at Maris Grove, an Erickson Living full-service retirement community that promotes a vibrant lifestyle. Erickson Living develops and manages 16 full-service retirement communities that provide worry-free living for America's seniors - the country's fastest-growing population segment. Erickson Living's refundable entrance deposit and predictable monthly service fees provide residents across the country financial peace of mind. Comprehensive health and wellness services, integrated into every community, lead to demonstrated resident benefits. For more information, visit www.ericksonliving.com.