Donations down for suburban military charity

A little more than five years after Lance Corp. James Stack of Arlington Heights was killed in Afghanistan, his memory lives on in the form of a fundraiser that brightens the lives of military personnel serving overseas.

Help USA Troops is a nonprofit started in 2011 by Tom and Dawn Hedrick, Stack's in-laws. He was survived by his wife, Katie, and a daughter.

"At first we wanted to help other Marines," Dawn Hedrick says, "but we've broadened it to help all the troops."

They started by sending candy, but have evolved the mission into sending care and comfort items.

"Last year, we shipped out 686 boxes," Hedrick says. "This year we're hoping to do more, though so far, donations are down.

"Each year, we've been able to do 10 percent more than the last year."

Hedrick and the other volunteers will begin packing up the donations at 11 a.m. Sunday at AMVETS Post 66, at 700 McHenry Road, Wheeling.

But it isn't too late to contribute. They are asking for pocket sized food and snacks, pocket sized powdered drinks, travel size toiletries, socks, stationery, magazines, iTunes gift cards, CDs, travel size games and batteries.

Members of Help USA Troops have collection boxes positioned with business partners across the suburbs. Locally, they include: Beverly Lanes, Mariano's Fresh Market, St. Edna's, St. James and St. John's United Church of Christ; and Glueckert Funeral Home; all in Arlington Heights; plus Wa-Pa-Ghetti's Pizza in Wheeling.

California Pizza Kitchen restaurants have offered all locations in Chicago and the suburbs as drop-off sites, including those in Arlington Heights, Deer Park, Schaumburg, Northbrook, Oakbrook and Warrenville.

Village Bank also has volunteered all of its suburban facilities, including Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, Palatine and Prospect Heights as donation drop off sites.

Help USA Troops members have been soliciting names and addresses of local military stationed overseas. To date, they have six personnel, including three soldiers from Arlington Heights.

"We'll be shipping them to officers at those units," Hedrick says, "so that they can distribute items to those who aren't receiving anything from home."

James Stack was stationed in Afghanistan only six weeks before he was killed, consequently he never was on the receiving end of care packages like these.

However, from the letters they receive back from some of the troops - particularly those from those who don't receive anything from home - they know their support is helping.

"We try to send a piece of home to them," Tom Hedrick says, "so that they know that we are thinking of them each and every day."

A complete list of items they seek is listed at

Marines overseas in an unspecified location, opening the boxes of goodies sent by Help USA Troops. Courtesy of Cpl Preston Ulrich/Help USA
Military personnel overseas dive into the comfort boxes. Courtesy Cpl. Preston Ulrich/Help USA
The packages aboard the USNS Comfort, en route to their recipients, in July 2015. Courtesy of Dawn and Tom Hedrick

Help USA drive

What: Collection drive and packing. Drop items off and/or help them pack it up.

When: 11 a.m. Sunday, April 24

Where: AMVETS Post 66, 700 McHenry Road in Wheeling

More information:

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