WAYLAND — Forty-eight care packages are heading to military members overseas thanks to local efforts.
The Wayland American Legion and Watkins Glen International teamed up to send Christmas packages to Wayland, Perkinsville, Cohocton, Springwater, North Cohocton, Atlanta, and Dansville soldiers on active duty overseas.
For years the Legion has done this act of kindness for those who attended Wayland-Cohocton Central, but this year they included Dansville.
On Dec. 1 some volunteers gathered to put the care packages together for the troops, which included girl scout cookies, beef jerky, personal hygiene products, cliff bars, magazines, cards, letters, and a very special message in a bottle.
Cindy Lewis-Black, Watkins Glen International Partnership Management director, said that for the first time her organization teamed up with Coca Cola to create the Message in a Bottle Program.
The Message in a Bottle Program puts a message in a small Coca Cola bottle to be shipped overseas to the troops for Christmas.
“We had 150 fans at the track fill out a Christmas message to send overseas to the troops,” Lewis-Black said. “Coca Cola has always been a great partner of ours, and this was their idea. In the future we hope to have more bottles for the troops.”
During the NASCAR event they have several vendors that come for the fans. Coca Cola had their tent up with the Message in the Bottle program.
“We have an Army Representative walk down the stage with the bottle to talk about the program at NASCAR,” Lewis-Black said. “We have always been a huge supporter of troops, and this is just one small thing we can do.
“It is a really great feeling to know someone will get these messages and know their sacrifice is appreciated, and that we are thinking of them on Christmas,” Lewis-Black continued. “I have a special place in my heart for the military, since I know a lot of people who served. Knowing these soldiers will get these messages brightens my day.”
Rochelle Hoffmeister, Wayland Legion Ladies Auxiliary member, has been in charge of the care package program for years.
“Pittsford students write letters and draw pictures for the troops every year. We get donations from all over for these packages,” she said. “We put in a letter from the Wayland American Legion so they know where the boxes come from. We have ornaments from the Wayland Free Library too. This is our favorite project to do every year.”
“It is great to let the troops overseas know they are not forgotten, and to give them love for Christmas,” Hoffmeister added. “We had one soldier overseas for 12 years, and these packages meant more to him than anything. They need to know that they are loved. My son was overseas for years as well, and these boxes helped him get through.”
There are five live five-foot Christmas trees going overseas from Stokoe Farms in Scottsville. Two go to Iraq, one to Iceland, one to Korea, and one to Germany.
Hoffmeister said that these local soldiers look forward to these care packages every year, and that is a part of home they can keep with them.
“We know all of these kids over there. They all grew up with our children, and went to the same school. They are all residents of the area,” she said. “We do what we do for the local soldiers overseas. We are all very proud of them.”
Post Commander Kevin Mark said the Legion continues to support the many troops from the area that make this sacrifice for us.
“It is a really tough time for them, because they want to be home for Christmas. We love and support our troops,” he said. “This year we are very thankful to Watkins Glen International for the help. The money we raise helps with the packages and the wreaths.”
Mark said it is nice that the troops know they are thought of for Christmas.
“They love having a piece of home sent to them,” he said. “I know they share what is in the packages with their units. We send over enough to them every year that they can easily share.”
Deeann Perkowski said that her daughter, Leeann Perkowski, is doing a special students for soldiers care packages for Memorial Day. What is left over of the Coca Cola bottles will go to them.
“Leeann’s cousin, Branden Smith, is a Marine who served in Japan and Afghanistan. She would send him photos and packages all the time. Once he came home he gave her a big hug, and he was in tears as he told her what those packages meant to him,” she said. “Those packages helped him get through the war. Leeann wanted to create something like that for all the soldiers like Branden. Rochelle helped us know who to reach out to overseas. We do this for Memorial Day.”
Perkowski added that her daughter wanted to include Dansville Central soldiers into the list this year.
“The Quibell family has been a huge help to us, and they are from Dansville. Leeann wants to include the Dansville soldiers into the care packages," she said. “We just want to help out the military. We are huge supporters of what they do. We take these kids, and make them think about the sacrifices being made for them. They put their lives on hold to go overseas and fight for our freedom. We take for granted that we are able to be home for Christmas.”
Leeann Perkowski sends a letter to the troops in the care packages that states the following, “Greetings from home, My name is Leeann Perkowski. I come from a three generation military family. I am a proud daughter of a US Army Ranger. I have great respect and gratitude for your service and sacrifice. I am so lucky that people like you fight for my freedom and safety.”
Leeann goes on to tell them a little about herself in this heartfelt letter to the local troops. In the end she lets them all know she keeps them in her thoughts and prayers.
The sponsors of the care packages this year include: Wayland American Legion, Wayland Legion ladies Auxiliary, Wayland Sons of American Legion, Wayland-Cohocton Central, and Wayland Rotary Club.