Cards have been written – scribbled in crayon, decorated with trees and collected in armfuls. The mailbox has been closed. And the cards have been organized into bundles for the American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program.
Now the second part of the program is underway – distribution. Over the next week, Red Cross employees and volunteers will deliver hundreds of thousands of cards carrying messages of heartfelt thanks, holiday cheer and well-wishes to service members far from home.
On Osan Air Base in Korea, 35 volunteers kicked off the holiday season sorting cards for service members. Among the cards, a volunteer came across a card that had been created in Braille. Susanne Harlandt, a Red Cross station manager in Korea, tucked it away as she looked for a service member in need of such a card.
“The holiday season brings extra challenges to those whose mission includes the care of our nation's service members. Being away from home during this time often makes them feel lonely and sad,” said Harlandt. “It is often the smallest gestures, like our Holiday Mail for Heroes cards, that makes the biggest impact on their well-being through the holidays.”
And with kindhearted intentions, a serendipitous moment occurred. In early December, Harlandt came across an American Forces Network article about the Recovering Airman Mentorship Program at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Senior Airman Michael Malarsie, a tactical air control party specialist who was blinded by a roadside bomb explosion near Kandahar, Afghanistan, in January 2010, has been working to establish this mentorship program, which will teach wounded airmen mentoring tools and pair them with other airmen who have been in such difficult circumstances.While sorting cards in Korea, an Air Force volunteer from the 51st Security Forces Squadron who came out after work to help the Holiday Mail for Heroes program, runs his fingers over the Braille note.
Harlandt immediately contacted Malarsie to ask if she could send a Braille holiday note his way, and he was overjoyed to be the recipient.
“Thank you very much for your words and for what you are doing. I remember getting a box of those cards while I was in Afghanistan and we loved them,” said Malarsie. “I am very excited to get a Braille Christmas card. Reading Braille is a skill that I certainly have not perfected yet, but I enjoy the challenge and I am grateful that there are people out there that put their time and effort into something like a Braille card.”
Back on Osan Air Base in Korea, the Red Cross partners with the Cookie Crunch to distribute cards along with cookies to airmen. Starting in mid-October, 150 Cookie Crunch volunteers baked 78,000 cookies and placed them into 9,000 bags – one for each airman on the South Korean peninsula. With a card and a cookie, the Red Cross and Cookie Crunch delivered holiday cheer, bringing service members just a little bit closer to home this season.
The Holiday Mail for Heroes program is just one way that the Red Cross reaches out to military members across the country and around the world. The American Red Cross mission began on the battlefields and continues today, assisting our service members and their families who serve alongside them, giving back to those who have given so much for our country.