NEWMAN — Thirty boxes filled with snacks, personal items and gifts for service members serving overseas shipped out to five units Wednesday after volunteers spent eight hours the day before packing them up.
Soldiers Far From Home is a grass-roots effort led by Sheila Wilmouth of Newman. She and a team of volunteers collect items to bring holiday cheer to members of the military.
For the past couple of years, the shipments also have included artwork contributed by local students for a contest Wilmouth holds. She said troops enjoy the personal messages and the art is a way to connect them with children.
Chris Benson, a Downey High School senior, won the overall competition. Winners at each level get various prizes including a round of miniature golf.
Wilmouth said the volunteers worked hard to pack all the boxes. They included Dieter Poetsch of Gustine, who has been an avid supporter of the effort. He has cancer and underwent surgery about two weeks ago. Wilmouth called him an "amazing and committed man to what we are doing for our troops."
Also pitching in was Lupe Garza, when she wasn't ringing the bell for The Salvation Army in front of the Westside Theatre, where the packing was completed. Garza brought along her 3-year-old granddaughter, who along with Wilmouth's 3-year-old twin granddaughters sorted candy into small snack bags.
In its ninth year, Wilmouth's program aims to bring a little bit of home to those serving far away. Testimonials listed on the Web site reinforce her efforts:
"Your support and donations came at a great time," reads one from Kelly Christian, an Army sergeant. "I was happy to see smiles on their faces and a bit of motivation back in their step. Ya'll made a huge difference in the lives of over 100 soldiers this week."
On the Net: http://soldiersfarfromhome.vpweb.com