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Hands and Hearts to pack it in at the end of the year

Posted: November 25, 2013 2:08 p.m.
Updated: November 25, 2013 2:08 p.m.

David Sowers, left, and Debbie Gardner join dozens of church volunteers as they fill shipping boxes with packages for the troops overseas at the Hands and Hearts event at Christ Luthern Church in Valencia. Signal photo by Dan Watson

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SANTA CLARITA - After 10 years and almost 7,000 packages sent to more than 700 service men and women stationed overseas, the Hands and Hearts volunteer group will box up its last shipment at the end of this year.

For Karolle Blackson, it marks the end of a labor of love she has spearheaded for the past decade.

“Whenever you do something for someone else, you get much more out of it than you give,” Blackson said recently when asked about the group’s longevity.

Volunteers in the group came together last week for what has been a monthly ritual over the years: boxing up caches of food, toiletries and personalized cards to ship around the world.

All those monthly meetings add up. Blackson said. By the time group members finish in December, they will have sent around 6,800 boxes to more than 700 service men and service women.

But the group had far more humble beginnings, starting after Blackson and a friend decided to “adopt” and sponsor a soldier overseas some years ago.

“It just started with sponsoring a soldier or two and it was so fulfilling,” she said. “It just felt so good so I started telling friends.”

When the need became more than she and her friends could meet, Blackson turned to Christ Lutheran Church in Valencia for more help and volunteers.

“It’s a perfect ministry for a church because of the outreach,” she said. “They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and it’s true.”

As the group grew, it attracted dedicated volunteers from both in and out of Christ Lutheran.

Saugus resident Ronald Anderson has been volunteering with the group for the last 10 years.

“We had such a great participation from people in the community,” he said of Hands and Hearts. “It just makes you feel good to be able to be a part of something like that where so many people are involved.”

As a veteran himself, Anderson said he knows the positive impact personalized care packages can have on those stationed overseas.

“It’s good to know that somebody someplace cares,” he said.

Kathleen Kahovec, the director of youth ministry at Christ Lutheran, has also been volunteering with the group for about 10 years.

She said one of the things she enjoyed most was getting children and teenagers from the church involved in Hands and Hearts, especially by having them write letters for the troops.

“They like to write letters to the soldiers to tell them what they’re doing and thank the soldiers for their service,” she said.
Valencia resident Jeff Wheeler said he has been volunteering for the past five or six years with his wife.

“We went over there one night and kind of got hooked,” he said. “You see so many people giving so much time and effort and I just felt it was time to give my time also.”

Winding down
But despite the efforts and enthusiasm of organizers and volunteers, Blackson said December will mark the last Hands and Hearts boxing event.

Part of the reason is the anticipated withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in the coming years, Blackson said, so the group had already made plans to wind down.

Another factor is the time commitment required to organize everything.

“You know, we’re 10 years older now,” she said. “And it becomes such a big thing that it’s a full-time job really to get everything coordinated.”

But Blackson said the results have been well worth the work.

“I probably have 24 or 25 friends that I’ve never met,” Blackson said. “But they’re military wives and I’ve gotten to know them through their husbands’ service.

“We’ve really, really, really been blessed,” she said. “All of us.”
On Twitter @LukeMMoney



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