Volunteers Caring for Soldiers
"Hugs for Soldiers" sends care packages, letters, cards and more to deployed U.S. troops overseas.
Summertime is the most patriotic time of year. We kick-off summer remembering those who gave their lives serving our country on Memorial Day. On the 4th of July we proudly fly our flags, sport our red, white and blue, and watch as the skies burst with fireworks all across our nation. It’s a time when we beam with national pride and show our gratitude for the many men and women who serve to protect the freedoms we all enjoy.
But how do we keep the patriotic flame glowing for the other 363 days of the year? Thanks to Hugs for Soldiers, an all-volunteer program based in Duluth, it’s easy to show our patriotism and support to our military service members and their families all year long.
In 2003, as congregational health advisor at Duluth First United Methodist Church, Angie Doerlich was asked to reach out and explore community needs. Because she grew up as an Army brat and married an Air Force lieutenant colonel, Doerlich was naturally drawn to learning more about the needs of soldiers and military families in our area.
Doerlich contacted Sgt. Christopher Long at the Duluth Army Recruiting Office, and they soon identified more than 30 Georgia soldiers in the 2-69 Armor Battalion deployed to the Middle East that were not getting regular care packages and letters from family and friends. It was then and there that Doerlich felt the calling to found the Hugs for Soldiers ministry dedicated to bringing the comforts of home and brightening a soldier’s day with care packages, cards, and letters.
Members of the Duluth First UMC embraced Hugs for Soldiers with great enthusiasm and, as word spread, support began pouring in from all directions. “What we didn’t realize at the time was that we were one of the first programs in this area to offer a ‘support our troops’ program like this,” Doerlich said. “People were very excited to have a channel to share their gratitude and support to our troops first-hand. We help cut through the red tape and bring the human element back into patriotism.”
Eight short years later Hugs for Soldiers has grown from writing letters to a few soldiers to touching the lives of thousands. The organization has garnered national support and was recently named by Scholastic Parent Magazine as one of the Top 10 Organizations in the United States.
Hugs for Soldiers programs now reach far beyond letters and care packages. Not only does it enable citizens to Adopt-A-Soldier, but Hugs for Soldiers helps organize drives, supports military families, celebrates troops at festivals, greets soldiers with welcome home bags, and more. Volunteers of all ages can share their "hugs" with soldiers through this program.
Linda Bailey, parish nurse at Duluth First UMC said: “It’s been amazing to watch the impact this ministry has had on our community. We don’t take a political stance about war, but instead work to nurture the human beings that have so unselfishly volunteered to put their lives on the line for our freedoms. As Americans we’ve learned a lot from our past mistakes in how we cared for our soldiers. Hugs for Soldiers makes it easy for everyday people to constantly remind our soldiers that they are appreciated and not forgotten.”
(Editor's note: Hugs for Soldiers sends care packages for deployed U.S. troops at Christmas and all year long. The organization also mails “Hearts & Hugs” Valentine cards, compiles Welcome Home Hero bags, accepts donations of Girl Scout Cookies and Boy Scout popcorn for the "Taste of Home" program, and collects food for a Thanksgiving Food Drive for needy military families at home. Donations may be dropped off at Duluth First United Methodist Church, 3208 Duluth Hwy. (SR 120), 770-476-3776. An Adopt-A-Soldier program is also available. To learn how you can become a part of Hugs for Soldiers visit www.hugsforsoldiers.org.)