Mothers sending gifts to forces

Inside the Jaffa Shrine Center on Saturday afternoon, members of the U.S. Armed Forces Mothers and their helpers could have passed for Santa’s elves.

“I think most of our members are here today,” President Michelle Focht said. “Plus we have Girl Scouts, a cadet, friends of members, other family members. This is great.”

About 50 people were involved in filling 67 boxes, each about 3 feet high, with a variety of presents, some wrapped, some not. All boxes, each weighing about 50 pounds when filled, will be mailed to loved ones serving in the military who can only dream of being home for Christmas.

The Armed Forces Mothers hold fundraisers throughout the year to help cover the expense of providing presents and the postage. The group takes donations too.

Boxes with the longest delivery routes will end up in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Korea and Japan. Other boxes will arrive at U.S. military bases, including those in Alaska and Hawaii.

“Two years ago, we packed up 100 boxes, but this year, we’re at 67 because the kids who were serving in Afghanistan have come home,” Focht said. “And that’s good.”

Valerie Bennett of Altoona donned a set of felt antlers and wore a wide smile while packing a box of goodies for her loved ones in Korea.

Charlene Johnson of Duncansville, who was helping Bennett, said she helped pack boxes when her son, Jason, was in the Marines.

“I still like to do it,” Johnson said.

Rick and Lori Heldibridle of Lilly were packing a box for their son, Richard, stationed in Germany with the Air Force.

“Rudolph can sing,” Lori Heldibridle said as she pressed the reindeer’s hoof that jutted from a red stocking inside a box, prompting the biographical song.

Rudolph can stop singing too, she said, demonstrating with another press on his hoof.

Sherri Mannion of Altoona and her granddaughter, Sloane Condo, 9, also of Altoona, were among two-member teams dropping fresh-baked cookies wrapped in plastic, into each box.

“I do it because it’s good community service and to help the soldiers,” Mannion said.

Grandson Peirce Condo, 11, said he was assisting for the second year.

“I do it to help the soldiers who can’t be home for Christmas,” the youngster said.

The boxes also include artwork from children, which Focht said is always a hit, and products from local companies including ones donated by Benzel’s and DelGrosso’s.

“We do that to give them a taste of home,” Focht said.