Boxfuls of hometown care


Karen and Gary Chaput of Marion box up care packages to be mailed to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to foods, snacks, clothing, Girl Scout cookies, toiletries, reading materials and other items from the United States, each box contains a toy for an Iraqi child. Volun?teers, along with items for the care packages, are always needed, Gary Chaput said. If interested in contributing time, food or other help, call 620-382-2754.

Three years ago Gary and Karen Chaput were at their Sunday church service, reading the names of service personnel serving in the Iraq and Afghani?stan wars and ?wishing we could do something special for these folks.?

The residents of Marion felt led to do something special for all of the troops from Marion County.

?There?s good things happening in what we?re doing over there,? Gary said. ?We wanted to support our kids who are involved.

?I?ve been on the other end. I know how much letters and cards can mean. It?s tough.?

Gary Chaput is a Vietnam veteran.

?I think all of us who were in Vietnam want to support the kids now,? he said. ?I was in Vietnam in 1968, in 1972 and again in 1973. I know what it?s like to be spit on for serving when you come home.?

He said he wondered then if the next generation would have the determination and will power to defend their country?s freedom.

?These kids have shown that determination,? he said. ?Some of them have been back up to five times.

?Whether we as Americans agree or disagree with the wars, we need to help them, respect them, appreciate them.?

The Chaputs knew they couldn?t duplicate efforts at Fort Riley to provide for the numbers of people at a division level. But they wondered if it was possible to do something for men and women serving from their own small corner of the world.

But there were barriers in the way. Gary Chaput said the Department of Defense doesn?t provide names of soldiers or ways for individuals to send things to them because of privacy policies and homeland security measures to protect troops and their families from possible terrorist actions.

?So,? he said, ?we prayed about it, and thought about it. We went to the courthouse here and other places to see if there was a list of names of people serving.?

Then they had the inspirational insight to create their own list from the institutions that gave them their initial desire to help: the churches.

?Every church has a prayer list for members serving in the military,? Gary Chaput said.

They compiled a list of about six pages with four or five names to a page.

?There?s about 30 people in Iraq and Afghanistan from Marion County,? he said. ?Then occasionally we?ll get someone saying, ?Hey, could you send a package to my grandson???

The Chaputs decided to seek help?that could be officially recognized?to send care packages to service personnel monthly.

They found it with funding and packaging help from the American Legion chapters at Marion and Hillsboro.

The Ladies Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter also joined in.

Because Gary Chaput is an Air Force retiree with a military ID, he was allowed on base at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita to receive merchandise and packages for shipping. ?

You aren?t allowed on base unless you have an ID,? he said.

The Chaputs send out care packages monthly now.

One day, they noticed a big flag flying in a yard in Burrton, and found Linda Bingham there sending packages to troops from her area. Now they help her with the support from Hillsboro and Marion.

They can always use more donations of things for the troops and money for postage. With the recent economic decline, contributions have dropped as well.

Gary Chaput said the service men and women like treats?including beef jerky, instant drinks, pretzels and popcorn?to toiletries, games and reading materials.

Christian reading materials and Bibles are appreciated along with Father Kapaun materials and rosaries from Pilsen.

He said the service men and women especially have loved getting letters and art work from the children in the schools.

?The kids have made them valentines to put in the care packages, and sent them personal thank-yous for what they are doing,? he said.

The Chaputs plan to keep on doing things for the troops. They find that doing one thing opens the door to doing another.

They helped found, and ride motorcycles with, a chapter of the Patriot Guard, which provides escorts at military funerals.

Karen encourages people to donate old shoes at St. Luke Auxiliary in Marion for the Disabled American Veterans program.

The shoes are sold to recylers for 15 cents a pound.

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