What I learned at the Y as a kid: No action is too small.
Meet Laura Landerman-Garber, the founder of the Holiday Card Challenge
You may have seen baskets of holiday cards, for the holiday card challenge, in our YMCA branch lobbies last October and November, inviting you to write a holiday message to military personnel serving abroad.
Our Volunteer Coordinator Terri McGrew connected with Laura to see how we could help with the Holiday Card Challenge, an initiative that has grown exponentially since its inception in 2003, when Laura handed out holiday cards to her family at Thanksgiving, asking them to write messages to our military heroes. She told them it was to be “their ticket to turkey!”
Fast forward to 2021. Through much media buzz, Laura now receives thousands of cards each year from all over the United States to pass on to those serving. The total number to date is over 500,000 cards!
The Y was happy to partner on this heartfelt program. This year, we contributed more than 500 cards, some handmade by local children and families. YMCA volunteers also gathered to help proofread, sort and bundle the cards. This year, the response was so positive that Laura had to move her deadline to later in the year. “I try to have an end of October deadline, so we can get these cards read, bundled and packed. With the mix of the pandemic and schools moving at their own pace, people were busier than usual this holiday season. I got a lot of messages that people wanted to help, but could not get the cards to me until November of December. That was fine. I’m never going to turn a card away. In January 18,000 cards came in! A Christmas card in February or March is just as delightful for those serving away from home.”
“It takes a village. To help this program grow, it really takes a village. The Y stepping in and stepping up has made a difference. This year, your volunteers helped sort and bundle thousands of cards. This made a huge impact. We couldn’t do it without you!,” she shared.
Laura envisions this card challenge to grow further and be more year round. “We are now gathering Valentine’s day cards. Valentine’s for our Troops. We already have 3000 cards; it’s a mini-challenge. They will go out to remote bases. Some bases that don’t get all the goodies. Sometimes small bases don’t get mail a lot. We are going to send cards to them. After that, I’d like to do a ‘Happy Spring,’ mini challenge in April and May.”
Laura shares that “the heart of this project is expressing gratitude to someone you will never meet or hear back from.” Occasionally, though, she goes get feedback. “I love the feedback when we do get it. It’s inspiring. It’s motivating. I got a letter from a medic on a naval aircraft carrier. She said on Christmas eve, they opened their cards. The card delivery arrived a week before, but they decided to wait to open cards together, as if they were opening gifts under the tree. Some medics who were not even on call, came in to participate as a group. They were excited. Each had bundles of ten cards. They sat around. The medical facility patients they were caring for were there as well. They shared the card bundles with patients. They played holiday music. They had a tree. They had lights. There were some military members who didn’t celebrate Christmas; some celebrated Hanukkah or other holidays. Gathering together on a special day was what it was about. They laughed. They cried. They taped the cards up on the wall. It made a difference on their holiday. I can picture that. One Army guy shared that it made the difference between despair and joy. That’s a gift,” Laura said.
“What I learned at the Y (in Pennsylvania) when I was growing up is that no action or goodwill gesture is too small. I dream really big. I learned at the Y that no dreams are too small. I love the Y. It’s been a part of my entire life,” she shared.
About Holiday Cards for our Military
Holiday Cards for our Military is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, based in Hollis. For more information on how you can help, check their website: https://militaryholidaycardchallenge.com. You can also reach founder Laura Landerman-Garber at holidaycardsNH@gmail.com.
This organization is volunteer-driven and 100% funded by donations. You can help by donating cards or helping with shipping costs. Each box of cards costs approximately $100 to ship overseas. There are opportunities to sponsor a box and decorate the box before it is shipped out.
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