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Crittenden elves make holiday merry for soldiers

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By Camille McClanahan

Imagine being burdened under a heavy load, trudging around in a war-torn hostile terrain. Dirty, dead-tired, nerves on edge, and you’re not even sure that there is one soul who cares about the sacrifices you’re making.

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Your lips are  cracked and burning. What you would give, just for something to soothe them?

That’s where Santa’s elves, from Crittenden Baptist Church, come in. They are busy making sure that local military personnel know they’re not forgotten. These elves are not working at the North Pole, they’re stationed in Crittenden and they work year-round.

Over the years, they’ve sent thousands of cookies overseas. Their workshop is the dining room of Rosalie Tunks and the festive laughter and chatter that fill the room would reform even the worst Christmas Scrooge. Tasty broken cookies are placed in the center of the table for munching, as Tunks pours freshly brewed coffee.

“We’re just a small group, and we know we don’t touch everybody, but the few people that we do touch are the ones that we hope we really do bless, Tunks said. “God blesses them, we’re just his hands.”

Years ago, when Tunks lived in Louisville, she watched a young neighbor grow up and go to war. She wrote to him and in his return letter, he gave her the names of 19 fellow soldiers.

“It just touched my heart,” Tunks said. “I wrote those boys and girls for two years. But then they all went back to Germany, and I lost their addresses. So, when we had two boys to go in, that was actually at church (Crittenden Baptist), I said to the girls, ‘We need to do this.’ It started as a WMU (Women’s Missionary Union) mission and it got too big even for that, we’re still WMU, but it just got bigger all the time.”

This is not just a Christmas project. The church has 23 people who adopt soldiers. Each person tries to write a letter or send a card once a month, and always sends a birthday card. Four times a year the group sends boxes with homemade cookies. In addition to cookies, other comfort items included are: hand sanitizer, hand wipes, computer memory sticks, hand warmers, deodorant, socks, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, Blistex, popcorn, packs of tissues, assorted hard candies, powdered drinks that can be added to water in their canteens. Church members also donate magazines. They have a list of 60 items, but cannot send all 60 each time, because of space, instead they choose what they think would be most useful.

“They’ve asked for boxer shorts and T-shirts,” Tunks said. “This is our first time to send those and we hope we get feed back, so we know we sent the right things. And they’ve asked for Honey Buns and Ramen noodles, so we’re sending those.”

Names are not solicited, because the group is small; however, members are often stopped by someone, in the community, and asked it they would add a service member to their growing list, and they don’t turn down individual requests.

“We have had some boys for five years, and they have not gotten out of the service, because there’s no jobs,” Tunks said. “We’ve probably had 10 who have been to Afghanistan or Iraq, maybe twice. We’ve never been given a girl, but we would take a girl in a minute. We’ve had one boy to get killed, we’ve had two to get wounded enough that they had to retire.”

In the beginning, the ladies shouldered the expense for the extra items and shipping, but recently, their project was included in the church budget, and they still get donations to help when they go over budget. Some people, who are not church members, have heard about their project and donated cookies, like “the lady at the Marathon station,” whose name they don’t even know.

“We’ll take a volunteer anytime we can get it, Tunks said. “We send extra boxes of cookies to give to the unit, depending on how many cookies we get.”

“We especially want to send them to Afghanistan,” added Ann Greene. “About two years ago, I got out on Sunday evening to go to church and this young man got out of a pickup truck. He was home on leave and he said, ‘Oh, you’re Mrs. Greene who’s been sending me those packages,’ and he told me how much he appreciated it. And we’ve had many replies back through the years.”

An occasional thank you note is their greatest delight, because it gives them “feed back” to know that they are touching lives.

“This is from the Gordon family,” Tunks said, pointing to photographs of cherub-faced children. “This is their babies. For me, it’s like grandchildren.”

Each box includes letters of love and appreciation, as well as “Our Daily Bread” scripture booklets.

“These boxes never go out of here without prayer over them, Tunks said. “Because they go with a prayer. The letters say we send it with a prayer.”

“We pray for them each and every day,” Greene said.

In all 56 military personnel have been adopted, but by sending extra boxes to be shared with each unit, their outreach has broadened.

“We consider when we send these extra boxes of cookies, that we don’t just touch one boy,” Tunks said. “We touch more boys to let them know that we’re here, praying for them and wanting them to come home safe.

That’s our goal. Our boys are there, whether people are thinking about them or not, they’re still there.”