Lorrie Tucker, a longtime waitress at Paul's Restaurant in Elgin, says she's always had a desire to show her appreciation for the men and women in our armed forces.
It's something that goes back to lessons she said she learned from her father, who served in the United States Air Force.
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In recent months, expressing that gratitude has taken the form of operating a one-person charity to collect donations for her son-in-law, U.S. Army Private Brian Beuten, a 2001 St. Edward High School graduate, and other soldiers in Afghanistan.
It's an undertaking that has been enormously successful because of the generosity of the restaurant's customers and something she plans to continue for some time to come.
"For years, we have had a candy jar in our restaurant after Halloween," Tucker said. "Customers would put in their unused candy and others would take a piece out.
This year, with the permission of the restaurant's owners, Elaine Paul, John Caribacas and George Georgaklis, Tucker suggested sending the candy to troops overseas instead. She personally promoted the effort and the customers responded.
"I can't believe how generous our customers have been," Tucker said. "I collected 47 pounds of candy, which I just sent off to Afghanistan."
Tucker says she addresses her donations to an A.P.O. box in New York. She's never quite sure where her son-in-law is for security reasons, she explains. It may take awhile, but she says he eventually gets the packages.
Excited by the success, she recently set her sights on collecting donations for Veterans Day.
Customers brought in stationery, personal hygiene items, portable music gift cards, candy, and more. Tucker says she had donations all over her living room floor as she prepared to send them.
"Other customers have given me money for postage," she said.
"I also plan to send a number of things for Christmas and have set a deadline of Dec. 1 for collecting items. I was thinking I'd skip Valentine's Day since that's a kind of 'mushy' holiday," she said.
"Then again, maybe a day when many of these men and women are away from their special loved one is just as important as others," she added. "In any case, this is going to continue for many holidays to come.
"The important thing is remembering the men and women who are serving our country."
Donations may be left at Paul's Restaurant, 1300 Lawrence Ave., Elgin, by Wednesday Dec. 1. Only unopened, commercially packaged items are requested. Contributions of cash are also welcome.