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Local and National News - Kootenai County, Idaho

Monday, Nov 16, 2009 - 11:21:03 pm PST

By MAUREEN DOLAN

Project sends gifts to area soldiers outside U.S.

SPIRIT LAKE - She's a Navy mom, so Carla Street knows a thing or two about sending packages to troop members overseas.

For the past four years, Street has coordinated Spirit Lake Home Troop Support, a project that sends gifts of encouragement and gratitude throughout the year to Spirit Lake area men and women who are deployed outside the U.S."It's so important to show them we support them, even if it's just to send a card or a letter," Street said Not only is she the mother of Julie, a now-retired Navy sailorette, but Street's husband, Bob, is a retired First Sergeant Vietnam veteran.

A nurse at Kootenai Medical Center, Street spreads the news about what she's doing for the troops by word of mouth, and the Spirit Lake community rallies.Some people give cash donations, she said, including a young Marine who recently handed her a $100 bill. Street never learned his name."He just said, 'I got a lot when I was in, and I want to give back,'" Street said. "Things like that just bring me to tears."

The Roy Racy VFW Post 1473 in Spirit Lake sponsors the project. Jerry Wootan, who served in Vietnam, said efforts like this are crucial.

"It means that these kids today are not being treated the way we were," Wootan said. "They're being appreciated." For this year's holiday season, they're sending jerky instead of cookies.People keep saying they have dehydrators so I'm going to put them to work," Street said. "Joe Hill, he has been making jerky all this week non-stop." Residents and businesses have stepped up with donations of wild game and money. A group gathered at the Linger Longer Lounge on Maine Street on Saturday to organize and seal bags of jerky -- turkey, moose, venison, elk and buffalo. Street said the bars in Spirit Lake, like the Linger Longer and Jo's Hole Saloon, are a major source of support.

Debbie Mann, the daughter of a decorated veteran who served in Korea and Vietnam, has been helping Street since she started sending the packages to deployed local military service members.

"It's a way of saying thank you to them, because they're out there defending the freedom that we have in the U.S., our way of life," Mann said. "It's a small thank you for such a big job that they're doing."

Mann said Street has a room in her home with plastic bins filled with goodies to put in packages. "Carla's got the banner on 365 days per year," Mann said. "She even sets up a little booth at the Fourth of July parade." Street said she would be happy to advise folks in other North Idaho communities who want to set up their own home troop support programs. She can be reached by e-mail, crlstrt5@msn.com, or phone, 623-2562.