Residents collecting donations to support troops

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The 2003 holiday season was terrifying for Molly Hibbard.

While Hibbard, a Steamboat Springs resident, tried her best to enjoy the comfort and security of holidays spent at home in Routt County, her son, Wesley Mottlau, was stationed in Iraq, jumping out of airplanes into an unpredictable and deadly war zone. There was little more the worried mother could do than tune in to her favorite cable news channel and monitor the coverage.

"It was absolutely terrifying," Hibbard recalled. "But he was in my heart. He was always with me."

Hibbard soon realized there was something she and others could do to bring a little joy and comfort to the young Americans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I just started sending Christmas packages over," Hibbard said. "It was wonderful to make their holidays a little bit cheerier."

Mottlau, a Lowell Whiteman School graduate, told his mom how much the items in the care packages lifted the spirits of fatigued and homesick troops. Items such as baby wipes, pillows and dry Gatorade mix were a happy reminder of home and the creature comforts soldiers often do without on the battlefield.

Hibbard and fellow Steamboat resident Marci Valicenti then founded Support the Troops, a local organization that collects items for troops and sends them overseas.

Soon, donations were coming from throughout Routt County. During the past year, Support the Troops has raised more than $7,000, shipped more than 100 care packages and granted money to help create college tuition funds for the sons of Staff Sgt. Mark Lawton, a 41-year-old Hayden man who was killed northeast of Baghdad on Aug. 29, 2003.

But although the fighting continues in Iraq, Support the Troops has seen donations steadily decline. Now, with another holiday season here, Hibbard and Valicenti are hopeful the number of donations will increase in time to prepare more care packages to send to troops for the holidays.

"I'm hoping we'll get bombarded (with donations)," Valicenti said.

"Holidays are difficult for a lot of people, but when you're in a strange land, not surrounded by your family and your security is threatened, I think the holidays become a lot tougher," she said. "It's nice to get packages from someone other than your family. It's nice to know that other people care about you and want you to return safely."

Mottlau is now stateside, temporarily safe from the dangers his fellow soldiers continue to face overseas. Hibbard said he could be redeployed soon.

But there are other local families who will spend this holiday season anxiously awaiting word from loved ones fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dec. 25 will be the first Christmas for 4-month-old Joseph Daniel Rezzonico. His father, Marine Corps Sgt. John Rezzonico, is stationed in Iraq and can't be with him.

"It was going to be our first Christmas as a family," said Jackie Rezzonico, John's wife. "It's going to be really tough, but I'm proud of him."

Instead, young Joseph and his mother spent Thanksgiving with relatives in Yampa. Christmas will be celebrated in North Carolina with Jackie's family.

Rezzonico said her husband and other troops love receiving packages from the homeland, even items as simple as a hand-drawn picture from a child or a written note saying 'Hello.'

"I think a little piece of home is the best thing you can send," Rezzonico said. "Just a 'Thank you' is all they need."

Of course, home-baked goods such as cookies also can do the trick, she said. Her husband tells her that dry Gatorade mix and towels are troop favorites.

Support the Troops has provided a list of suggested donation items, including magazines, DVDs, CDs, books, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, Chapstick, pre-paid phone cards, toothpaste, soap, non-aerosol deodorant, batteries, pillows, playing cards and other games. Dry, nonperishable food items such as gum, syrup, packaged cookies, candy, nuts, candy canes, Gatorade mix, hot cocoa and tea, gourmet coffee, cereal and Chex mix also are favorites.

Donations can be dropped off at Prudential Steamboat Realty in Central Park Plaza or Steamboat Real Estate on Yampa Avenue. Monetary donations, which can be used by Support the Troops to purchase care package items and also to pay for shipping, can be sent to the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, P.O. Box 774965, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477. Checks should specify Support the Troops on the memo line of the check.

Support the Troops hopes to have enough donations to send its next batch of care packages today.

For more information, call Valicenti at 879-5000 or Hibbard at 879-8100.


-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234 or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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