WAUSAU, Wis. -- It all began when 19-year-old Army Pfc. Philip Blume was talking from Afghanistan with his mom in Marathon and he asked her to send him some sheets.
Betty Blume, 54, of course said yes, and tossed in some of the other things he needed to get by in the harsh conditions overseas -- sunscreen, some hand wipes and a soft pillow.
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But she didn't stop there.
Her effort to make sure Philip could rest comfortably at night has blossomed into a communitywide effort to send care packages to dozens of other soldiers fighting in Afghanistan.
So far, the initiative has collected thousands of dollars and helped send 30 packages to Army bases all over Afghanistan -- and Betty Blume and her husband, Larry, aren't stopping there.
They and other Marathon-area residents, as well as parishioners at the Blumes' church, have taken on the project, and they're determined to get the comforts of home to as many soldiers as they can.
Though the collection effort began just two months ago, when Philip was a couple of weeks into his nine-month deployment, the Blumes' efforts to make their son more comfortable stretch back nearly two decades.
Philip isn't their natural-born son. The couple adopted him from Korea when he was 4 months old, and one could say Philip was in the Army almost immediately.
An American soldier coming home from Korea on leave brought Philip with him to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, where the Blumes first held their new boy.
That experience must have stuck with him because Philip had wanted for some time to join the Army before he graduated high school in 2011 and enlisted.
The Blumes weren't happy that their son was headed off to Fort Sill, Okla., for basic training and then into a combat zone with the Alpha Battery 4-319 AFAR unit of the 173rd Airborne, but they were determined to let Philip chart his own course in life.
"He's just so proud to be an American, and all he wanted was to be an American soldier," Betty Blume told the Wausau Daily Herald ( wdhne.ws/RgAwL4 ). "He doesn't have any regrets. I'm proud of him and extremely surprised at how brave he is."
Betty Blume, an office manager, and Larry, a mechanic, started getting an idea about Philip's bravery when they began speaking with him using the Internet video-chat program Skype.
Philip described for his mother the conditions on his base -- particularly the smell -- and Betty decided to send supplies.
On the base, soldiers are allowed to shower every other day. Betty recalled her son complaining about the unavoidable odor that permeated his sleeping quarters in the desert heat. That's when she started to send air fresheners.
The military gives soldiers the necessities for survival while in combat zones, but ammunition, communication supplies and other essentials take priority over luxuries such as the outdoor magazines and crossword puzzles to help pass the time.
Every time the two talked, Betty Blume said, her son asked for something else.
As time went on, Betty began to send messages to family members and friends, sharing her conversations with Philip. They in turn wanted to send him things he was asking for, which sparked the idea of sponsoring other soldiers.
Betty said it was Cindy Meyering, a family friend, who came up with the idea to ask to have a second collection at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Marathon for the troops.
"Father Joseph Diermeier graciously agreed," Blume said. "We were so blessed with the overwhelming response -- people gave way more than we expected."
During the offering, the growing group of supporters collected more than $2,300 in initial donations to fund the care packages. Blume said the total exceeded $2,500 after others who weren't at the service learned of the effort and sent checks.
The donated money has allowed Blume and her group of volunteers to send out 30 packages to various army bases throughout Afghanistan.
Sue Blair, 48, of Marathon, got involved when Betty mentioned that she was sending care packages out to troops. Blair helps her friend by coordinating with stores and companies for donations to send in the packages. She said the goal is to bring the men and women in the military comfort and enjoyment even in the midst of unpredictable situations and unfamiliar locations.
In emails to his mom, Philip expressed just how much the packages mean to him and his fellow soldiers.
"(T)he whole platoon and i thank u ... we all really appreciate what u guys r doing for us its people like u guys that remind us why we r here doing this for our great nation," Philip wrote in one of the messages.
One of the companies pitching in is Kafka Granite in Mosinee, which is covering the cost of mailing out every package. Larry Blume works there as a mechanic, and Betty Blume is the owner's sister. The Kafka family sent individual packages to Philip, but Tiffany Kafka, a company marketing representative, said the company jumped at the chance to support other troops.
As word got out to other units about Philip's packages, the list of requested items grew. Blair said she expects the group to keep sending packages to soldiers overseas as long as the funds continue to come in from the community.
"We're really blessed by a giving community who has rallied together behind us to help through money, donations and supplies," Blair said. "We'll send as much as we are able to because of them."
Information from: Wausau Daily Herald, http://www.wausaudailyherald.com