The first Redwood Falls meeting of Operation Minnesota Nice didn’t go quite the way its organizers had hoped.
Other than the three organizers, no one showed up to the Redwood Falls VFW club to help out.
Denise Jorgensen of Ramsey, founder of Operation Minnesota Nice, wasn’t rattled by the first month’s lack of response.
“The first meeting we had in Richfield in 2005, no one showed up for that one, either,” she laughed on Thursday evening.
“The newspaper did a story about us anyhow, and 37 people showed up at our next monthly meeting.”
The Gazette hopes lightning strikes twice.
Operation Minnesota Nice is a statewide group that meets monthly to send CARE packages to overseas service men and women.
The difference between Operation Minnesota Nice and similar groups: this one seeks out soldiers who don’t get anything else from home.
“In 2004, my daughter’s friend was deployed to Iraq,” said Jorgensen. During his tour, family and friends sent him packages.
Jorgensen said, “He wrote back, ‘It’s so great to get these packages from home. I have been sharing mine. There are guys over here that get very little from home. There are even some that don’t get anything.”
Jorgensen asked him to send her some names of soldiers who didn’t get packages from home, and Operation Minnesota Nice was born.
“We try to target service members who have fallen through the cracks,” said Jorgensen.
In the seven years since, Operation Minnesota Nice has formed over 40 branches all across Minnesota, and currently sends packages to over 1,100 soldiers.
Nearly 14,000 soldiers have been sent packages in all.
The way the system works, members choose or are assigned a soldier, and send a monthly package to him or her for the rest of the deployment.
Sarah Rief was one of the first volunteers to get involved, back in 2005.
When she moved to Redwood Falls recently, she still wanted to be part of Operation Minnesota Nice, and decided to see if she could start a branch here.
“The only common denominator all our volunteers have is supporting the troops. It’s not about politics, about whether you support the war or not,” said Jorgensen.
“It’s a way to show a soldier you care about him,” said Matt Sullivan of Redwood Falls. “Every month he gets a package from a real person back home.”
The boxes themselves and their mailing costs are donated by the Post Office.
Although volunteers are certainly welcome to personalize each box of items for each soldier, many items are donated by volunteers or organizations.
Page 2 of 2 - “These slippers were knitted for us by some ladies in Alexandria,” Jorgensen, holding them up.
In the past, the Girl Scouts have donated cookies, while Caribou Coffee has donated nearly two tons of coffee to Operation Minnesota Nice.
Next month, for Halloween, General Mills will donate 300 pounds of candy.
“There’s nothing better than getting a letter from a soldier asking for a request, and then you get it for him,” said Rief. “If they ask for cookies, you want to fill a whole box with cookies.”
Since 2005, Operation Minnesota Nice has sent over 650,000 pounds of packages overseas for soldiers.
The next Redwood Falls meeting of Operation Minnesota Nice is set for Oct. 18, at 6:45 p.m. at the VFW hall.
For more information, or to donate goods, contact Sarah Rief at 612-968-4375, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.