Good News: Wheaton workshop collecting cards, letters to send to military personnel
The cards and letters are coming in.
After a plea went out last month from a Wheaton-based organization for families "staying at home" to write letters to the military, the idea is gaining traction. Last week, organization officials estimated they had received nearly 200 letters so far, and they are accepting letters until May 16.
Sarah Starke started the DoodleBug Workshop three years ago as an outlet for persons with disabilities to learn vocational skills. Her own son, Alex, has disabilities, and now 23, he has aged out of the school system and needed something meaningful to do.
Starke has partnered with the American Legion, including chapters in DuPage, Kane, McHenry and Will counties, who serve as mentors to these young people.
"With everyone stressed right now about the coronavirus, it helps to focus on others, including the thousands of men and women who are defending this country, plus veterans in our community," said Kevin Leonard, Commander of the 11th District American Legion.
"As a veteran of multiple Middle East tours, I can tell you that being away from home is hard enough," he says. "Add in the uncertainty of life on the home front and you'll find a whole lot of needless stress. I think this letter campaign is just what the doctor ordered."
With the active partnership between American Legion members and participants involved in the DoodleBug Workshop, writing to the military was a natural. They call the initiative, "Write a Joe or Jane Campaign."
Starke encourages people to write cards, letters, notes of encouragement or create drawings, all of which will be forwarded to military members with the help of the Chicagoland Blue Star Mothers. Each Blue Star member has a son or daughter serving in one of the branches of the military.
"We have sent care packages and letters to our troops over time, and we hear back about how important these gestures are to them, boosting their morale, their sense of purpose and more," says Sonja Stowers, president of the chapter, which is based in Warrenville.
"I've heard from family members who have served that these letters are highly valued and appreciated," she adds. "These letters are especially important to our service members who don't typically receive much mail. These letters truly mean the world to them."
Both Stowers and Starke describe the letter writing project as a learning tool for children staying at home, that combines letter writing, drawing and creativity with empathy, patriotism and thankfulness.
"It can be an opportunity to share stories and photos of family members and friends who have served or are serving," Stowers says.
"It can be a chance to teach our families about how our military works every day to protect us and keep us safe, both here at home and overseas."
Another group getting behind the project is the Wheaton Lions Club, led by R.C. Crompton, president.
"I've shared it with our membership and encouraged them to get involved," Crompton says of his nearly 100 members. "We have many members who are veterans, and some of them are working on it with their grandchildren."
It was the Lions Club who helped Doodlebug Workshop move out of Starke's garage last year and into a space on Main Street in downtown Wheaton.
The new location is large enough to include a room for participants to work with tools, another for those working on finishing touches and, ultimately, a retail space for handcrafted products such as lawn and wall art, all made of wood.
When participants meet for organized social gatherings, Starke says she always includes writing letters. Extending their efforts to the community, she adds, "creates an opportunity that gives a call to action to support our troops during these troubling times."
Want to drop off a letter?
The letter writing campaign to members of the military has several drop-off locations, but letters also may be mailed directly to the DoodleBug Workshop, 314 S. Main St., Wheaton, IL 60187.
Other drop-off locations include:
• Imagination Print and Design, 68 Main St., Suite 1, Oswego
• Geneva American Legion Post 75, 22 S. 2nd St., Geneva
• Second Bridge, 43 E. Crystal Lake Ave., Suite H, Crystal Lake
• Warrenville VFW & American Legion Hall, 3S371 Mignin Drive, Warrenville