When Hometown Heroes first launched in spring, it began with five local nominees and five care packages shipped overseas. This weekend, those involved packed 106 boxes filled with 721 lbs. of supplies - not only for the six newly identified local active service members, but for the 100 members of the St. Helens based Bravo Company 741 Brigade Engineer Battalion of Oregon Army National Guard who recently deployed to the Middle East.
On packing day, which took place on Sunday at the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO), while wading through supplies and a room full of volunteers who’d turned out to help, Sheriff Brian Pixley said he had no idea how large the endeavor would become.
“I can’t tell you how many people donated money and time and resources to really making this possible,” Pixley said. “It’s a lot of boxes.”
As of Sunday, Pixley said the effort had managed to raise $1,700 in cash and were expecting more in the coming days. That worked out well, given it will cost about $2,000 to get all of the boxes shipped to their various locations.
“The American Heritage girls have been the whip-crackers in this whole thing. They really helped me take this to the next level, as well as the employees of the sheriff’s office,” Pixley said, adding the girls scoured every community event raising donations and getting the word out.
Vivian Rupe, service project coordinator for the American Heritage Girls, had already been taking her girls to an organization in Portland to participate in similar projects to support our troops. She said she was inspired by seeing what Hometown Heroes had been able to accomplish.
“I contacted them, and I said, ‘Oh my goodness, you answered a huge calling for me. I’ve been taking my girls out there.’ So, I had a meeting with Sheriff Pixley and Captain Weaver,” Rupe said. “I’d done this before and it’s something that I want our girls to participate in and I want the community together because that’s really what my passion is. Anything that needs to be done in the community, regardless of what it’s for, that we all work together and accomplish it together.”
Rupe set up a Facebook page called Hometown Heroes of Columbia County and began helping with coordination of the project.
She said it fulfilled a big section for her troop of girls to participate. They’re learning about their heritage, she said, the sacrifices that the service members make in order for us to be able to enjoy the freedoms that we have.
“When we look at it, our troop is faith-based, so for us it’s God first and then the American soldier,” Rupe said. “If it weren’t for those two, everything else wouldn’t be working together.”
Rupe said some of the girls have family that have served or are serving, and the experience was meaningful to those kids who were already connected to the cause because they learned there were “a lot more people who care about them” besides immediate family. When they go to school now, Rupe said it’s helped them understand that there are other kids out there who are also dealing with the void of an absent family member serving overseas. Those who don’t have a military connection are learning to take the initiative in receiving information and showing their support, she said.
“Before we start a new service project, we always tell them, ‘this is what’s it for and imagine yourself being this person,’” Rupe said.
The American Heritage Girls are still collecting Christmas cards and cards of encouragement to send to the servicemen until this weekend to send in a separate box. To help with that effort, anyone who wants to donate cards should reach out to Rupe on the Hometown Heroes Facebook page.
Pixley said the boxes for Round 2 would be shipped out next week, and then they’ll start planning for Round 3.
“I’ve heard there might be another troop deployment around the first of the year, so I’m going to guess the next round will happen fairly soon,” Pixley said. “Make sure to say ‘thank you’ to a soldier. They’re really out there on the front lines protecting what we hold dear and make sure you thank their families, as well.”