When Kathi Mode of Elk Grove Village was shipping packages to her son's friends in the military overseas, she never thought she'd continue to do so after they came home.
But as her Packages 4 Patriots program celebrated its four-year anniversary on Tuesday, Mode was proud to say the effort, based at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit in Elk Grove Village, has shipped a total of 55,000 pounds of goods to soldiers stationed in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Qatar.
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"I didn't think we ever would have made it this far," Mode said.
Mode's son, who graduated from Elk Grove High School in 2000, had two friends join the military, so she started sending them packages of treats and toiletries. She decided to continue shipping the same items to other soldiers after the friends came home. Mark Evans of the Pizza 4 Patriots program encouraged her amplify her cause, and Packages 4 Patriots was born in 2010.
At Tuesday's event, there were 24 empty boxes that needed to be filled with least 14 pounds of items. Volunteers take a box or two and inch their way around a large horseshoe table to stuff the boxes with personal items.
Items range from disposable razors and lollipops to coffee and the latest issue of Rolling Stone. The boxes are stuffed with handwritten letters from young children, weighed and carried off for shipping.
Box weights typically vary by month because busier seasons require greater volumes of goods. Postage is also expensive for the program, Mode said.
Mode and the church's pastor, Tim Manwell, said the program transcends the congregation, as people in the community outnumber church members by roughly a 5-to-1 ratio. They said that is largely because aiding the soldiers is an issue people from all walks of life can relate to.
"Everybody knows somebody who is serving or has served in the military," Manwell said. "We all know somebody with a pent-up desire to do something nice. Packages 4 Patriots allows an outlet for that."
The program's efforts don't go unnoticed, as Mode and her husband, Randy, always receive warm reception from the troops when their packages arrive. The soldiers even sent the family a framed flag once used in combat for their efforts.
"Elk Grove is a very military-friendly community," Mode said. "And, as always, you get more back than you give."
Packages 4 Patriots meets at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit, Lions Drive and Elk Grove Boulevard.
For details, visit www.packages4patriots.com.