Last year, when Kara Mikos decided to start gathering small gifts for U.S. troops in Iraq, she asked local merchants for handouts.
"I don't know anyone serving (in Iraq) right now, but I do come from a military family, so I know what it's like for our troops to be away from home," she said. "I wanted to be able to send them something."
The U.S. Postal Service recommends sending regular mail packages by Dec. 10 for delivery by Christmas. Express Mail will be available to most overseas military destinations as late as Dec. 19.
Packages should display the service member's full name, military organization and unit and APO/ FPO address. Packages should be well-wrapped on the outside with clear mailing labels and addresses. Items being sent should be wrapped in newspaper or other packaging material for protection.
This year, Mikos decided to expand her efforts and involve the entire community.
With the help of her employer, Cantafio Law Offices, and local newspapers, Mikos has been able to spread her message across the Yampa Valley.
"It's a really hard time for the men and women serving in the military right now because they are away from home," she said.
"I just think that sending them anything we can to increase their morale is good."
Since the first week of November, Mikos has been asking community members to donate small gift items, nonperishable foods or cash to help fill care packages for troops. She hopes to mail the packages early enough that troops will receive them by Christmas.
Mikos said she is looking for items such as new magazines, books, DVDs, CDs, wrapped candy, non-gender-specific gifts, mini-toiletries such as toothpaste, mouthwash and baby powder, and cash donations.
"We're looking for anything that will make someone's day a little brighter," she said.
"They can be things they can't easily get their hands on. You pretty much can send anything you want."
Mikos said she would like to have all of the items by Dec. 2. As of early this week, Mikos said community members have donated more than $1,000 and numerous magazines and other items.
Donors should remember that the troops are in foreign countries and to be mindful that what we may think of as an appropriate morale booster might not be regarded as such by people of certain nationalities.
For that reason, Mikos asks people not to donate Playboy magazine or other seemingly risque magazines such as Maxim or FHM.
Mikos is planning to send packages to six units serving in Iraq.
"We really do appreciate everything we have already gotten from the community, but I do hope that anyone else who is interested in donating will come forward and do so soon," she said.
Donations can be dropped off at the Steamboat Pilot & Today office, 1901 Curve Plaza in Steamboat Springs, or at the Craig Daily Press office, 466 Yampa Ave. in Craig. Monetary donations can be dropped off or mailed to First National Bank of the Rockies branches in Craig, Hayden and Steamboat. Checks should be made payable to "Support our Troops." Monetary donations will be used to purchase gift items for the packages.
Steamboat Springs residents Molly Hibbard and Marci Valicenti also are collecting small gift items to send in holiday care packages for troops.
Hibbard and Valicenti have been collecting and sending items for the past three years. Hibbard said people often are more generous with their donations during the holidays.
"I'm sure the troops do miss home this time of year, and we try to help make that better," she said.
"We'll see people make homemade cookies to send, they'll wrap gifts. ... We know the troops love all of that."
Hibbard said troops seem to especially like Gatorade powder mix, hot chocolate, chips and salsa and peanut butter.
Hibbard also said it is good to send DVDs, books and magazines.
One unique item troops appreciate is static cling wipes they use to clean their computers and other gear.
"We send packages three or four times a year because we want to make sure the troops know they are not forgotten," she said.
Hibbard said people could donate items for the next couple of weeks at Prudential Steamboat Realty in Wildhorse Marketplace or at Steamboat Real Estate, 635 Yampa St. Monetary donations can be sent to the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, or made online at http://yvcf.org, with the notation "Support the Troops" at the bottom.
For more information, call Mikos at 879-4567 or Hibbard at 879-8100.
-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234
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