January 25, 2011

Operation special delivery

Meryle Zusman, communications director for the Derry Public Library,
holds a stack of postcards for service men and women.
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Somewhere in the world there is a soldier longing for an encouraging word from a friendly stranger.
Abby Plante, a page at the Derry Public Library, has made it her mission to make sure no member of the U.S. military is left empty-handed
 during mail call. 

“The idea came shortly after my son, Paul, was deployed to Iraq,” said Plante.“I had asked him to let us know if he saw soldiers over there not receiving mail, and he sent me a list of people — I was actually shocked at the length of the list,” said Plante. “Shocked in that it was hard to un­derstand someone being there and not having the support of people back home.” 
So Plante has launched a postcard campaign through the library. At her expense, she’s printed up 500 American flag postcards that read “Thank You For Your Service,” on one side. 
On the other side, she’s written the names of service men and women who would like to receive mail. 
“As a family, and extended family including my son’s relatives, we have passed around the list he sent home initially, sending letters just to tell these men and women that we’re proud of them, and appreciate what they’re doing. There are others, though, I’m sure many more we don’t know about yet, who’d appreciate some mail,” Plante said. “According to my son, you can never get enough mail from back home.” 
The cards are waiting at the library. Patrons can come in and fill one out. Plante will complete the address and mail them as quick as they are filled out. 
“We also have coloring pages for younger kids who can’t write, or those who are developmentally disabled who’d like to send some cheer,” Plante said. “They will be distributed by the base chaplains to soldiers who could use a lift.” 
People can also come into the library and fill out a request form, to have someone added to the list, said Plante. 
“We have some suggested messages for anyone who isn’t sure what to say — mostly we just want to let them know we’re thinking of them, and that we’re proud of their service. You can simply say, ‘Your bravery and strength of character represents what America stands for. Thank you.’ It doesn’t have to be anything fancy,” Plante said. 
She has gotten a little help from Col. Howie Steadman, who heads the JROTC program at Pinkerton Academy. 
“Abby’s son Paul was a cadet with us for four years. He went on to UNH and joined the Army ROTC there, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. I’ve communicated with him by letter since he’s been deployed, and he always mentions how important the letters are that he receives,” Steadman said. 
Steadman has gathered up some names of other Pinkerton alumni for Plante to add to her list. 
“We have a few groups at the school that have been sending letters and packages to deployed Pinkerton alumni who are stationed all around the world. You learn quickly through feedback that the letters are really their connection to home,” Steadman said, something he understands personally ever since his daughter, Danay Steadman, Pinkerton Academy Class of 2008, was deployed to Kuwait two months ago.
“Her spirits are good, but I know what it means to her when she gets mail from home,” Steadman said. 
“I know it matters because, over the years, we’ve had former cadets who come back to tell us all about their time serving, and they always remember to thank us for keeping in touch. They always tell us how much it meant to them to get a little bit of information about what’s happening on the home front,” Steadman said. “It’s no small thing.” 

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