Sending care in the mail

Program matches soldiers with pen pals in America

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Tina Eckhoff thinks her brother, Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Griffin, is pretty lucky. He has many friends and family members to send him letters and packages while deployed in Iraq.

But she realizes not everyone there is so fortunate.

So she has started Mission Possible: Save Our Soldiers, a program designed to match servicemen and -women overseas with people in America looking for some way to contribute to their efforts.

"I want the soldiers who are over there to consistently receive mail from one person who they can form a bond with," Eckhoff said.

She originally thought of the idea when friends repeatedly asked to send packages to Griffin, because he was the only solider they knew. She didn't think it was fair for him to receive an overabundance of mail when others didn't receive any.

"I want them to have a human contact outside of a war," she said.

She's hoping to add to the growing list of those serving who would like to be adopted and to match each one with an interested person here. Then, the two will write back and forth, exchange pictures and, ideally, become friends.

"Then, when they get stateside, if they don't have family, now they do," she said.

Eckhoff said she wants to be careful who she includes in the program, because she wants this to be a positive experience for both people.

"When I give somebody a soldier, I want to make sure they'll take care of that soldier," she said.

She expects pen pals stateside to remember birthdays and holidays and to send care packages to their soldiers.

"You can't start and then peter out because that's worse than never getting mail at all," she said.

Eckhoff has matched military personnel with people in Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Craig, mostly with her friends and family. She wants to open the program up to anyone who would like to participate.

Although putting packages together may become costly, Eckhoff said this price is reduced, thanks to the Operation APO Ship Free program, organized by Pack Center Shipping. They send any packages to servicemen and women overseas for free because of community contributions.

Eckhoff plans to visit local business owners and ask for support for the program to encourage more people to participate in SOS.

Her cousin Kari Griffin, 14, is helping Eckhoff create brochures to distribute to participants, in which she hopes to include a wish list of items soldiers need and want.

Some items she encourages are Pop Tarts, hard candy, toilet paper, dark-colored towels, sunscreen, Chapstick and socks.

Eckhoff ultimately hopes the pen pals overseas will feel like someone cares about what's going on with them.

"I just want this to be very personal," she said. "I hope they come out of it with a new friend."

To get involved in SOS, contact Eckhoff at 824-2968 or teckhoff@peoplepc.com.

Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031 or mperry@craigdailypress.com.

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