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VFW Auxiliary collecting cards & gifts for our troops
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Christmas Day is just around the corner. Nine days from today, to be exact.

But, said Sherie Layson of Manteca, “it’s not too late to send Christmas cards or care packages to our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Layson, who is president of the Ripon Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1051 Auxiliary, said they already “shipped out 3,500 Christmas cards from students in the Manteca Unified and Ripon Unified school district, and all kinds of goodies for Christmas – candies, games, cards, all kinds of things. They were sent to 10 different guys to share to all the men in their units. Over 600 soldiers will have five or six cards.”

Last week, Layson read two thank-you letters from area soldiers fighting the war in Iraq and Afghanistan before the Manteca Unified board of trustees during their meeting last week “to show how much the letters and care packages mean to them,” she said. Trustee Nancy Teicheira took that opportunity to hand out to Layson her own contribution to the Auxiliary’s Christmas effort.

Layson said she is grateful to the officials of both school districts for allowing her to collect Christmas cards from the students for the Auxiliary’s “Rally For Our Troops” project.

“I started it last year, about November. I went to the school board asking them if it was okay to do that, and they said it was OK as long as long as you are not asking for donations. So I made up flyers and drove to all the schools in Manteca, Ripon and Lathrop,” Layson said.

Next year, the Auxiliary plans to include the high schools and French Camp school as well in the Christmas project, she said.

“Most of these children serving in Iraq and Afghanistan joined right out of high school; they are only 18 years old. There are local boys who just graduated last year and today they are in Iraq,” said Layson whose own brother was killed during the Vietnam War.

To get the goodies and cards to soldiers in time for Christmas, Layson said, “just call me or they can write to us. If they can’t afford to send to their loved ones, they can leave me the address and their phone number. I’ll have them packed within two days” of receiving the names of the soldiers to whom they want to have the care packages sent.

The cards and packages are not mailed simply to a unit but to a specific soldier, Layson said.

As of Monday, “we have four more names of soldiers to ship out,” she said.

While these are earmarked for the Christmas holidays, and with barely two weeks for the care packages to get to their overseas destinations, Layson said, “No time is too late to remember our troops, to let them know how much we all care.”

Donations needed year-round
Layson said gift items put in the care packages are donated by various people in the community. Cash donations they receive are either used to purchase other items for the packages or to pay for shipping. They paid $500 in flat rates for the 40 Christmas boxes already mailed.

If you’re donating specific things for the packages, Layson suggests the following: beef jerky, gums, puzzle books, gums – “gum is the big one” – hard candies – “they like to suck on hard candy,” Layson said. But no chocolate. “They melt in the heat,” she said.

“They also like foot powder and antibacterial things to wash their hands, plus lotions, toothpaste and toothbrushes.”

Walgreens in Ripon donated “four giant cases of toothbrushes.” There are also decorated barrels at the Ripon VFW Hall on West Ripon Road, as well as at Del Webb in Manteca where people can drop off their donations, Layson said.

The donation barrel at Del Webb is there at all times, she said. They don’t just send care packages during the holiday season. “We send them whenever anybody gives us a name,” she said.

The Auxiliary holds different fund-raisers during the year for their Rally for Our Troops project, added Layson. One such fund-raiser was a recent harvest festival comedy fashion show. They also hold garage sales during the year for this purpose.

“But the Atlantis Casino and Sands Hotel and Casino in Reno have been our biggest supporters for the last three years,” Layson said.

Each year, the two casinos have been donating “three days and two nights” stay at these two Reno destinations, each worth $200, “and we raffle them off.”

The money raised from these “pays for the shipping” of the care packages, she said.

“They alone are our biggest supporters. Without them, I don’t know what we’d do,” Layson said.

Del Webb has been very generous as well to their Rally For Our Troops cause. “Every single time I go there, the barrels are full, full, full,” she said.

Getting the packages ready are done by members of the Auxiliary. However, Layson said they will welcome “any student that wants to earn extra credit and other volunteers. All they have to do is call me.”

You can reach Layson at (209) 922-9533 to volunteer or to give a soldier’s name for whom you want a care package sent. Or you can mail the information to: Ripon Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary, P.O. Box 63, Ripon, CA 95366, Attention Sherie Layson, Auxiliary president.