Just as mothers made lunches for their children and buttoned their coats when they were sent off to school, Blue Star Mothers are still making sure their children have a healthy snack and warm clothes even when the children are deployed around the world. Blue Star Mothers are the mothers, stepmothers, grandmothers, foster mothers and female legal guardians who support their children serving in the military, guard or reserves, or are veterans. They also care for each other and promote patriotism.
The 6,000 members in 200 chapters across America specialize in care packages and letters to members of the armed forces. They spend $1 million in postage alone. They also hold veteran events throughout the year, as well as events honoring Gold Star Mothers, Gold Star Families and other veteran groups.
"It's more than just care packages. We do a lot of outreach activities as well," said Anne Gross, recording secretary for Blue Star Mothers New York Chapter 7, which comprises Erie, Niagara, Orleans, and some of Genesee County. New York Chapter 4, based near Jamestown, serves Chautauqua County.
The national organization supports the U.S. Armed Forces and its veterans, advocates for America's armed forces, and those men and women who have served their country with honor. They also assist and participate in ceremonies which honor, remember and support troops and veterans, honor those families whose children have died in service to our country, and to uphold the American principles of freedom, justice and equal rights, and to defend the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic.
The mothers accept donations throughout the year to make care packages for the troops, with a focus on Christmas and Easter seasons.
"We get donations throughout the year. Sometimes our troops will ask for specific things and we will use some of our funds in our treasury to augment the staples and get them some of their special requests," Gross said.
This year, one of the members, Audrey Schafer, who is an active member of St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Cheektowaga, spoke to fellow parishioner Jim Calamita and they organized a parish collection.
"I found out about the Blue Star Mothers when I was looking for things to do with the outreach program. I thought it would be a pretty good program to initiate," said Calamita. "We get a sizeable collection. It's not massive, but it is significant." Calamita has since turned the collection over to St. Philip's veteran's group.
There are certain guidelines for donations: no tobacco, pork or aerosol products. The volunteers have to sort through donated products to remove expired products and other banned products. Monetary donations are used to buy special requested items.
Along with personal care items such as soap and toothpaste, they send granola bars, pudding cups, flavoring for water, socks, sunscreen and hairbrushes. "They absolutely love beef jerky," said Gross. "And if they want something special from Buffalo, we'll put in some sponge candy for them. Sometimes they like the little tiny bottle of Frank's Hot Sauce."
One woman got Taco Bell to donate a box of hot sauce packets. Soldiers put them on their field rations. "Hot sauce on a piece of cardboard is better than eating a piece of cardboard," Gross said.
Some troops have sent heartwarming messages back, saying how much they appreciate the package and the thought.
"They love it because we also include a letter from us and then many times we get our schools on Valentine's Day, Christmas, Veteran's Day to do a colored picture or something like that, saying, 'Thank you for your service.' We pack all of those in there too," Gross explained. "It does them good to know that somebody back home, whether they know them or not, is thinking of them. You can feel the gratitude in the messages."
Blue Star Mothers will send a generic care package to any member's child that is deployed. To request a care package, contact Anne Gross at 716-803-5954 with the name and full address of the service member who would like to receive one.