Volunteers gather together for a cause

Heather Carlson of Cologne and her son Ethan pack up finished cards that will be sent to soldiers overseas as part of a community effort at Cologne Academy on Saturday morning. (Adam Gruenewald/The Times)

by Adam Gruenewald
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A large group of about 70 area volunteers representing several different organizations packed the Cologne Academy lunch room on Saturday, sending about 2,700 messages of hope for soldiers serving the United States.
Volunteers put in a little under 5 hours of shared work to finish blank cards which will be sent to soldiers overseas so they can send them back home.
Co-chairs and Cologne Lions members Paula Stephens and Joan Takata were both impressed with the volunteer that came out.
“I think we had a great turnout this year from different groups in the surrounding communities,” said Takata. “We also members of the community come out and I was especially impressed with the kids.”
Stephens agreed, adding that there were about 20 youth from local groups and the community who offered their support.
“It was a fantastic day,” she said. “It was so awesome to see so many groups come out and support the event. “Everybody had a great time and we were able to put out so many cards. It couldn’t have been a better day.”
The sixth annual local Cards for Soldiers event, that has led to a total 10,750 cards, is coordinated by the Cologne Lions Club and is also part of a nationwide effort.
“It’s fun to watch it grow and fun to watch the community come together,” said Stephens. “It’s fun to see the effort still be relevant.”
As reported previously, the local event was started by Cologne Lions member Paula Stephens who was involved in Scrapping for Soldiers, a Prior Lake group started by Julie Berg, whose son, Matt, has since enlisted.
About 15 different kinds of cards, including birthday and thank you cards, were prepared ahead of time that soldiers can then send to their families.
Cards are then sent to soldiers overseas through Soldier’s Angels, a nonprofit organization that provides aid and comfort to the men and women of the United States Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and their families and to improve the lives of a growing veteran population.
Founded in 2003 by the mother of two American soldiers with the motto “May No Soldier Go Unloved,” Soldier’s Angels has, among several efforts, sent hundreds of thousands of care packages and letters to deployed service members as well as 25,000 first response backpacks and provided care and comfort to those in stateside military and VA facilities.
On Saturday, local volunteers came from the Cologne Lions, Cologne Leos, the newly chartered Watertown Leos, Watertown Lions, Stiftungsfest Ambassadors, NYA West Carver Lions, NYA Legion Auxiliary as well as other groups from Waconia, Carver and the area as well as grandparents of soldiers serving overseas.
“We really appreciated the donations that were made by some of these groups as well that donated cash and also cards that they had made,” said Takata. “That helped out our totals too.”
While the number of cards sent from the local group continues to rise, the amount of hours put in doesn’t thanks to volunteers.
“I think as the years go on we’re learning things each year and we’re getting more efficient,” she said. “I think we’re doing really well. It’s a really fun event that people look forward to participating in.”
For more information, visit www.colognelions.com, www.scrappingforsoldiers.com or www.soldiersangels.org.

Follow Adam Gruenewald on Twitter @adamgruenewald.