My Northern Berkshire readers may remember a column I wrote in December 2012 about a longtime friend, Patty Erdeski of Stamford, Vt., who has taken it upon herself to mail care packages to servicemen and women.
Her younger son, Arich, entered the U.S. Army after graduating from high school. With her older son, John, attending Norwich University at the time, Patty threw herself into being a military mom -- and not just for her sons. When Arich was deployed to Afghanistan, he told her many members of his company never received packages from home. Patty went into action and started her "Boxes of Love" project.
"I wanted to do everything I could do to get them packages," she told me back then.
Her plan was to send boxes only as long as Arich was in Afghanistan, but he's been stateside since last summer and she's still at it.
"That was my original plan -- when he comes home, I'll stop sending," Patty said. "But I can't do that because there are still people out there that aren't going to be getting packages. And I feel good knowing I put a smile on someone's face."
Patty was mailing her 10th package when I first wrote about her; when I checked in with her last week, she was on her way to the North Adams Post Office to mail box 391.
However, "it's summertime and my donations are low," Patty said when we spoke. "Donations are much higher during the holiday season.
She said she has many regular donors, including women in Adams and California, who craft neck cooler scarves with gel packs that help the soldiers stay a little bit cooler in the scorching desert heat. (For directions on making them, go to www.instructables.com/id/Sew-Very-Useful-Neck-Cooler/#step0 )
She added people also knit caps for the soldiers to wear under their helmets during the winter months. During one of my stress-knitting streaks, I made her several and have started some more. If anyone wants to knit caps, they must be made with dark-colored yarn -- anything bright sticking out from under a helmet could act as a target for the enemy. (The pattern I use can be found at www.knitting-and.com/knitting/patterns/hats/london-beanie.htm )
Patty said a woman in Adams regularly brings her homemade soap to send, the Readsboro VFW donated 163 DVDs and a neighbor had donated 500 CDs.
For a list of items that can be donated, go to www.stamfordelementary.com and click on the "Box of Love" link on the right-hand side of the home page.
Patty said she is basically interested in items "that will feed them, clean them or entertain them," citing paperback books, magazines, puzzle books and travel-size games.
Patty frequently dips into her own coffers to purchase items or to pay for the postage to ship the boxes overseas. The postal rate is $15.45 -- for each box. Monetary donations may be sent to her at 38 Autumn Lane, Stamford, Vt. 05352. For those nervous about sending a check to a complete stranger, Patty suggested making the check payable to the U.S. Postal Service.
Donated items may be left at the post office in North Adams or Planet Fitness at the end of Summer Street, just beyond the post office. If any of my readers in central or southern Berkshire County are interested in donating, I will accept them at the Berk shire Eagle in the Clock Tower Building, 75 South Church St.
Anyone who knows of a serviceman or woman in need of a Box of Love may Facebook message Patty with the serviceman or woman's name and address. She stress ed messaging in order to keep the information confidential. She will send a message back when the package is mailed.
She puts a note in with each box that reads "Dear Hero, I hope this is something you can use," and signs her name.
She shared a few notes she has received from the service personnel and their families.
"The biggest reward I get is knowing that the package has been received and that I've lifted their spirits and put a smile on everybody else's face there, knowing that something has come from home. That's the biggest thing -- they know that we are not forgetting them." Hello Mrs. Erdeski,
My name is - - - and I just received your care package! I just want to thank you for you kindness. That lifted my spirits for sure. Anything from home makes us smile over here. Just want to say thanks again! God Bless You.
Patty, I just got your box of love and I gotta say I was thrilled! Thanks so much.
My Son Brian asked me to thank all of you who sent him birthday cards. He got his birthday cards and Girl Scout cookies. He shared them with his unit. He said it brought a smile to his face to know you all care about him and that he and his unit loved the Girl Scout cookies they came just in time and from me, his mother, thank you for loving my son and making his birthday special while being in the sand box.
I from my all-too-sort vacation to a wonderful surprise - one of my readers had anonymously left me a copy of Janet Evanovich's latest novel, which I had mentioned. Thank you, whoever you are! I can't wait to read it! Please email me so I can thank you personally; all I know is it was a woman who left it. Plus, I'm sure you might want to pass it along to others when I'm through reading it.
I tried two really easy -- and good -- recipes last week during vacation. Next time I make the muffins, I'll add 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice.
Two-Ingredient Pumpkin Muffins
18 ounces spice cake mix
15 ounces pumpkin (not pump kin pie mix)
Mix the pumpkin and the spice cake mix together with an electric mixer until well com bined. (You may want to throw in some nuts or raisins.)
Spoon into paper-lined small muffin/cupcake tins, 23 full. (The batter is very thick and doesn't settle, so you may wish to smooth the tops.)
Bake at 350 degrees for 18 to 22 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.
Pineapple Angel Food Cake
1 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple (in water or juice)
1 box of angel food cake mix
Whipped cream (optional)
Fresh raspberries (optional)
Combine crushed pineapple (do not drain) and angel food cake mix in bowl. Batter will be fluffy. Pour batter into baking vessel of choice -- cupcake tin, square baking dish, springform pan -- and bake according to the temperature and time on the cake mix box.
After baking, let cool. Then cut and enjoy. You can top with whipped cream and fresh raspberries if you like!