The American Red Cross is rallying citizens to create greeting cards blessing the nation's troops stationed abroad this holiday season.
Titled "Holiday Mail for Heroes," the program launched today with a public card signing and concert courtesy of the Red Cross at its Washington headquarters. The initiative solicits and collects personal messages from civilians and then distributes them to military installations like bases, camps and hospitals worldwide.
"Of the two million service members, tens of thousands will find themselves away from home during this holiday season, and others are close to home but desperately need an emotional and spiritual boost," said Gail McGovern, the Red Cross' president and CEO in a statement. "We are proud of the service members and families we have touched over the years and the many more we will reach this year."
Anne Marie Borrego, the Red Cross' director of media relations, said Holiday Mail for Heroes is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. It began when what is now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center shared the overwhelming volume of greeting cards its military patients received with the Red Cross. Now personally collecting cards through a P.O. Box in Maryland, Borrego said the Red Cross had sent out 3.5 million cards through the program since 2007.
"There are times we feel disconnected from events overseas and this is a great way to make that connection and say thank you," she said. "We try to touch as many military personnel, veterans and family as we can all over the world. It has a big impact receiving a card from a complete stranger thanking you for your service."
Borrego added that two big changes to the program were taking place this year. She said that Simon Property Group would be adding drop boxes to collect the cards at its various shopping malls across America. In addition, she said, mail distributor Pitney Bowes would also offer a $1 internet card generator at Mailforheroes.com for making and mailing holiday cheer.
"Many of our soldiers are away from home and away from family," said Kevin Connolly, Pitney Bowes' vice president of strategic transformation, in a media statement. "It's important they know we support them and are thinking of them, especially during the holiday season. We are very pleased to be working side by side with the American Red Cross to help deliver these messages to our men and women in uniform."
Singer-songwriter Michael W. Smith, a member of Red Cross' celebrity cabinet, will also serve as Holiday Mail for Heroes' program spokesperson. The Grammy and Dove-award winning musician said the event appealed to him given its focus on appreciating U.S. Armed Forces.
"The brave men and women who serve our country deserve our utmost gratitude and heartfelt sentiments, especially during the holiday season when they are far from home," he said in a statement.
Borrego said the Red Cross recommends program participants mail their cards no later than Dec. 9. Care packages, insertions like glitter or money and individual letters should be avoided, she added, for sorting and safety purposes. Last but not least, she encouraged letter writers to keep their greetings kind but generalized.
"I think this offers us a chance to send a touch of home to service members overseas," she said. "Any time we hear from folks who've received cards they're very thankful and grateful for the program."