Serving those who serve

© 2018-Ogle County Life

STILLMAN VALLEY – Stillman RED: When Stillman RED first comes to mind many may think of the cardinal that represents the school or the red and black uniforms that the high school athletes wear with pride.
A new organization in Stillman Valley wants Stillman R.E.D. to bring to mind the many community members who are serving the country. Stillman R.E.D., Remember Everyone Deployed, is a local volunteer group wanting to remember every Stillman Valley graduate and resident who is serving in the military.
The group was formed by Donna Arnold after she saw the impact a simple care package has on a service member. Arnold’s son, Matt, a 2010 graduate of Stillman Valley High School, joined the Marine Corps after graduation. During Matt’s first Valentine’s Day in the service Arnold wanted to send her son some treats and reached out to Facebook friends asking if anyone would like to contribute. Her plan for one care package turned into four full boxes filled with his favorite treats. Due to the surplus of treats, Matt was able to share with others in the School of Infantry. Later that year, when Arnold went to pick Matt up, he volunteered his mom to bring treats for everyone left in the school. She then drove to Virginia with coolers full of treat bags.
At that time, Arnold knew two other teammates and classmates of Matt’s who had joined the Military and wanted to recognize them. Those three boys started a mission and focus for Arnold who wanted to serve those who serve the country.
Three to four times a year Arnold worked to send those a personal thank you and care package for their service to our country. While Matt is now a veteran, Arnold continues to acknowledge those who serve. Each time Arnold sends a care package she puts out a request on Facebook asking for donations of those wanting to contribute an item or financial support.
In the fall around Veteran’s Day a care package is sent out containing small treats and a card that is signed by as many community members as possible. The cards are usually on display at a football game or two to gather signatures. The cards and packages let the service members know their hometown has their back and is there for support.
“There have always been supporters financially, but initially it was just me for the leg work,” Arnold. Said. “With the list of heroes growing, it became a lot of work. During the drive last year for Vets Day, the cards needed to be distributed for more signatures. It happened at a time that I couldn’t do it myself. Several Moms stepped up to drive them from house to house and finish them up.  It was a realization that many others were ready, willing and able to lend a hand.”

Stillman R.E.D.
Knowing she had the support, Arnold created a Facebook group, Stillman R.E.D. (Remember Everyone Deployed), to keep the community informed on active military members and reach out for support. The group now has around 25 family members of military members from Stillman and many other proud community members.
We currently have about 30 names on our list but there are no doubt more than that from the Stillman area that we need to know about. What we need is the name of a service person, a family member, spouse, or someone who can keep us posted with address or status changes and knows when they will be home, explained Arnold.
“This group is established to bring together those from the Stillman Valley community who want to help support those currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces,” she said. “Our mission is to make sure that those brave men and women hear from their grateful community three or four times each year with cards and packages.”
For Christmas Arnold tries to include a significant gift within the care package. In the past she has included a Christmas ornament that includes their branch of service, a gift cards and last year each package contained a water bottle. The water bottle featured their name, branch of service and “Making Stillman Valley Proud.”
Stillman R.E.D. also hopes to send care packages out around Memorial Day/ Fourth of July.
This summer, Stillman R.E.D. sold shirts to raise funds for the group and to keep the service members active in the communities mind. More than 120 T-shirts were sold and proceeds from the sale covered the purchase of a T-shirt and shipping to mail active members on the list their own Stillman R.E.D. shirt.
“Each time things were sent, I appealed to my Facebook friends for donations and they always came through very generously,” she said. “I’ll never forget one young man in Junior High who sent me $20 of his own money with his parent’s donation. So many people have contributed over the years.”
Thank you’s from those who serve include sediments such as “nothing is better than knowing your entire town supports your decision to fight for our country. Thank you to everybody in Stillman Valley, especially Donna Arnold, for making these shirts and sending them out to all of us.” “Got the package today! Thanks to everyone who keeps putting these care packages together, it means a lot.”
Arnold received a verbal thank you from a Navy seaman who has been serving for close to 20 years. While showing a Stillman R.E.D. T-shirt to some Navy friends a comment was made that when someone is in the service that long their hometowns usually forget about them.
“That kind of thanks really makes the work we do be worth it all,” Arnold said.
Arnold said she is hoping Stillman R.E.D. can include as many community members as possible and wants to support all who are from the area serving the country. If anyone knows a local service member, please contact Arnold or Stillman R.E.D. on Facebook to get their name on the list.

Get involved
The group will have a booth at Stillman Fall Fest to take orders for additional shirts, hold a 50/50 raffle and spread information on Stillman R.E.D. as well as gather more service members names. The group plans to have a float in the parade to include as many service men and women that can be home.
Stillman R.E.D. is hoping to find a way to organize as a 501C3 so that donations may be tax deductible.
“I keep hoping someone who has that expertise might step forward and either volunteer their services or give us a really good deal to do it,” Arnold said. “That would help us be able to get corporate/business sponsors as well.”
Arnold said that while supporting Stillman R.E.D. the money stays local to honor the local service members.
“It’s hard to know how to connect with specific service members,” she said. “Larger organizations are there to contribute to, and they are very worthy causes, but I prefer having a personal connection with these members. I can also say that 100 percent of the donations go straight to the service members. There are no administrative costs because we are all volunteers.”

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