Julie and Carlee Heiling are volunteers for Operation Minnesota Nice, a group that sends care packages to soldiers who are overlooked when mail from home is being handed out; Julie said, “We used to send little care packages, and my sister’s son said how much they meant to him — it bothered us that there were soldiers who weren’t getting any packages.”
When you think of items to send to soldiers serving overseas, pink shampoo and pink flip-flops aren’t usually the first items that come to mind.
But for Julie and Carlee Heiling of Redwood Falls, it was a treat to get some.
The Heilings are volunteers for Operation Minnesota Nice, a group that sends care packages to soldiers who get overlooked when the packages from home are being handed out.
As someone from a military family, Heiling said, “We used to send little care packages. My sister’s son said how much they meant to him, and it bothered us that there were soldiers who weren’t getting any packages.”
Operation Minnesota Nice volunteers don’t get to choose which soldier receives their packages. Instead, the soldier’s own colleagues nominate servicemen and women who haven’t been getting packages from home.
“This touches people who don’t have family or friends,” said Julie.
Nevertheless, “We asked if we could donate to a female soldier,” said Julie.
Soon the Heilings were in touch with a female soldier serving in Afghanistan.
“When she sent us a picture of herself, we could connect a name to a face. She said the package definitely impacted her. She wasn’t expecting it, and was overwhelmed some strangers would do that for her.
“It made the war a little more real, and brought it home. There are still soldiers serving over there.”
Julie’s daughter Carlee, a senior at RVHS, wrote a letter asking what the soldier would like.
“It was fun to send girl-specific items for her, like pink shampoo and pink flip-flops,” said Carlee.
Several months later the Heilings got a package back from the soldier. It held a letter, a photo, and an American flag.
“The soldier wrote the flag had flown over the U.S. base in Kandahar in honor of our family,” said Julie.
“We thought, “Omigosh! We’re getting gifts back! We didn’t expect that!” said Julie.
“When we got the flag we were so touched we cried,” Carlee said. “We were just hoping to cheer her up a little.”
The Redwood Falls version of Operation Minnesota Nice meets on the third Thursday of every month at 6:45 p.m. at the VFW hall.
Sarah Sullivan, has been the Redwood Falls Unit Leader since the local group formed here last year.
Kathy Godfrey of Clements attended her first Operation Minnesota Nice meeting on Thursday.
She learned about the group while attending a Family Readiness Group meeting for military families in Litchfield.
Robin Kokesch arrived at the meeting carrying little stuffed scarecrows to add to each box.
On Thursday, the volunteers packed boxes with an autumn theme.
“I brought pumpkin spice marshmallows!” announced Deb Schmidt of Redwood Falls.
Schmidt joined Operation Minnesota Nice after she saw a Gazette story about the group forming last year.
“My husband was in the Air Force in the 1970s,” she said. “He was stationed in Japan, and said when he used to get letters from home, it was just great.”
To date Schmidt has supplied boxes for two soldiers who have come home in the past year.
“I’m on my third soldier!” she said, packing boxes on Thursday evening. “What we’re doing is something so small compared to what the soldiers are doing.
“They have trouble getting even the simplest things, and they appreciate just a pack of gum or a card so much.
“The soldiers like funny, jokey things,” Schmidt said. “Last month, for our Halloween theme, I sent along a pirate hat and eyepatch. I got a letter back telling me it got passed around to everyone on the base.”
At Thursday’s meeting, the volunteers tossed around ideas to get more involvement from the community, perhaps asking local churches or school groups to sponsor a soldier once a month.
For more information, call Sarah Sullivan at 612-968-4375, or email her at Sarah@operationminnesotanice.com