Mom Asks Americans to 'Have a Heart'

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 15, 2007 - An Army mom in Malone, N.Y., is asking Americans to show their compassion and make life a little more pleasant for troops serving overseas through her Have a Heart/Adopt a Soldier program.

Have a Heart/Adopt a Soldier is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program highlighting the ways Americans and the corporate sector are supporting the nation's servicemembers.

Gladys Walker started the organization in December 2002, when the popularity of her care packages spread beyond her son's unit.

"He called and said there were others ... that weren't getting any mail and they weren't getting any supplies, so we sponsored them," she said. "We deal with every branch of the military, plus we've even (helped) civilians that are stationed over there."

Her son, Army Sgt. Robert Collins, is serving his third tour in Iraq.

Each week, she and five of her 18 regular volunteers pack and ship 100 to 200 boxes of comfort, hygiene and entertainment items for troops from her list of nearly 1,000 servicemembers, Walker said.

"The most requested (item), believe it or not, is still those little tuna and cracker packets," she said, adding that needed items are sent when requested, as well.

While care packages are her main focus, Walker also works to help families with financial difficulties, she said. One instance found her helping to cover unexpected expenses of soldier's funeral that the family couldn't afford at the time. "We've done big things and little things," she said.

But it all comes with a price tag, and she sometimes has multiple fundraisers going at once. Yet there are bright spots.

Inclusion on the America Supports You site has given Walker's group visibility, drawing both requests and offers of assistance, she said.

A local group has agreed to adopt four soldiers for a year, a $10-per-month commitment, Walker said. Another group is sponsoring 50 servicemembers through the group's 2X program, which, at $20 per month, covers both the care package items and postage.

She also said America Supports You membership lends her group credibility. "(Potential donors) see that larger organizations are supportive of us little guys," Walker said. "That helps."

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