Love letters to 800
West Concord, soldiers carry on correspondence
By Amy Brase
WEST CONCORD — People stopping by the West Concord post office often linger to read mail addressed not just to them, but to the whole town. This month, a small bulletin board features two new letters alongside photos of the soldiers who wrote them.
"I received the package you sent yesterday and wanted to let you know how much I appreciate it. Everything you put together for me will be used. It’s almost as if you read my mind of what I could use," wrote Lucas Altwegg on Feb. 27 from the Manas airbase fire department.
"It warms my heart to know that I live in a community that is willing to help out other people they have never met. We are now able to hand out socks, shampoo, shaving items, etc., to all the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Airwomen, and Marines that come through our hospital," wrote Staff Sgt. William Krause.
Duty and passion
Postmaster Terry Mertins is delighted at the attention the letters are receiving. She has been greeting customers Monday through Friday for the past five years at the old brick post office on Main Street. It’s one of the few post offices around that still boast the old woodwork and brass mailboxes from the 1960s, as well as a wooden window that lifts up with grates underneath.
While her daily duties include sorting mail and handling paperwork, her passion involves correspondence of a different sort. Mertins is credited with launching a communitywide effort to send care packages to local troops serving overseas since November 2006.
"It all started one night when I was scrapbooking with friends. I was getting ready to send a holiday care package to my cousin, Sgt. Thomas Hanna. Another lady, Judy Allen, overheard and said her son had just been sent overseas. She wondered if we could get together and send a package to him, too," said Mertins.
The initiative soon multiplied into more names and more boxes. The Rev. Chris Brekke from Trinity Lutheran Church caught wind of the plan and proposed a church project, which snowballed into a communitywide project. The first assembly night drew 24 volunteers to the American Legion.
"It was a time when many of us had family, friends, or neighbors who were preparing for deployment," said Brekke. "We just wanted to support them in any way that we could. Terry has had Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and school groups all jumping on board. It's been great."
Nine mailings and 262 boxes later, the mission continues.
"I just kept hearing ‘When can we do it again?’ It is such a privilege to work in a town that shows so much concern for those serving in the military," said Mertins.
"In a town this size, 800 people, the postmaster plays a very important role and the post office is a social place. Terry has very humbly taken on this mission, simply to be part of the community and let our soldiers know that we have not forgotten about them," said Brekke.
Packages sent every couple months include items such as popcorn, DVDs, flavored drink packets, bug repellent, beef jerky, and socks. Residents recently donated 168 boxes of Girl Scout cookies for an Easter mailing.
"There is no way a soldier (not even all the soldiers combined) can thank you all enough," wrote Spc. Donald Kusik. "It seems to be that the best way we can show our appreciation is to keep giving our best efforts while we are here."
Brase is a freelance writer and lives in Oronoco.