When Sid Linver brought his Platoons Forward project to Lenexa’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7397, his main focus was on sending care packages to Army and Marine troops in combat outposts.
Last month, the VFW’s national convention turned the spotlight back on Linver and Post 7397 when it gave them the Fred C. Hall Memorial Outstanding Post Special Project Award.
“I didn’t understand what the award was, the magnitude of the award,” Linver said. “This was the single most important award for community service; it sunk in that we had done something that was worthy of national attention.”
The VFW considers the award a special way of recognizing “outstanding community service projects that are over and above what is expected of VFW units,” said Jennifer McDonald, a communications associate at the VFW’s national headquarters.
Linver, a retired colonel who served in Vietnam, had started the project on his own before joining the Lenexa VFW on the condition that the post would help him continue his efforts. He coordinates the post’s work in collecting comfort products for troops stationed in remote combat outposts in Afghanistan. They currently send boxes to companies in the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army and the 5th Marine Regiment. Popular items include beef jerky, hand warmers, boot socks and candy.
Veterans have worked with local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, religious groups, the Lenexa chamber of commerce and companies such as Frito-Lay and Cabella’s to collect items on soldiers’ wish lists, sort them and ship the boxes. Wal-Mart and Hy-Vee stores in the area have allowed the group to set up collections outside their stores.
“For us, it’s all about giving back to the community and truly supporting our troops. Our VFW motto is, ‘No one does more for veterans,’ ” said Bruce Fischbach, Kansas VFW junior vice commander. “We’ve been in the combat zone, and we know there’s nothing greater to receive than a box from home.”
The troops who receive the boxes are in areas without a regular base or post exchange, whose supplies are dropped by helicopter. Linver gets in touch with the first sergeant of a unit and asks what the soldiers want or need. That list becomes a shopping list veterans hand out at area stores when asking for donations.
Items such as candy aren’t just for soldiers to enjoy — they give some things to local children as a goodwill gesture.
Although the goods are donated, and they use free boxes from the U.S. Postal Service, the VFW still has to pay for postage, and at $13.75 per box, it gets expensive. Linver estimated that by the end of this year, the post will have sent 5,000 boxes since the project started in October 2007, paid for mostly though donations and fundraisers.
Linver hopes the publicity from the award will encourage people to donate money for postage.
“If I get one more post to do what we’re doing, it’ll get bigger and bigger until everybody’s out of Afghanistan,” Linver said. “We get the spotlight for a very short period of time, and we tried to show people what we do.”