Local organization at 10-year milestone of mailing care packages to troops in war zones
It started out with a few yellow ribbons along a main street in town, and then about a dozen care packages to soldiers which she assembled on her dining room table.
Ten years ago, Sindy Biederman and American Canyon Troop Support (ACTS) never imagined she'd still be sending out care packages every month to troops stationed overseas.
In the last decade, Biederman, a full-time Napa County probation officer, has sent out an estimated 5,000 packages, including to some who have served up to six tours of duty in either Afghanistan or Iraq.
She called the 10-year anniversary something of a "tragedy" since it means the wars continue and soldiers are in harm's way, but added she'll continue to send out packages as long as they are needed.
Supporters and those who help Biederman say her work is the ultimate labor of love. "It's amazing," volunteer Barbara Thompson said. "It's hard to imagine that it has been 10 years."
"She's an angel in disguise for what she's doing," said Rosario Mercado of Vallejo, whose son-in-law Jeffrey Aure served in Afghanistan and received care packages.
Besides continuous reminders of wars, the monthly care packages have become a way of life for Biederman and her husband Mike. The actual task of putting the packages together takes several days a month. Then there are countless hours of planning and organizing. The trip alone to the post office to mail all the packages takes up to two hours.
ACTS begun when Biederman's son, Jeremy Profitt, was stationed in Iraq in 2002 and 2003. She had joined a Napa group of mothers sending out packages, but got angry that they stopped when their sons returned home.
"I said 'Wait a minute there's still others over there,' " she said. In her first mailing, she sent out a dozen boxes to her son so he could give out items to others.
She also put up the yellow ribbons on American Canyon Road and arranged to have a "Support Our Troops" sign put up in American Canyon. She works on Veterans Day events and other programs in town.
Grateful her son came back safely in 2008, Biederman said she never forgets others who are still in war zones, plus their waiting families. She also advocates for veterans when they return suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other physical and mental problems.
"We do the care packages because someone else's kid is over there," Biederman said. "We want this little, tiny package to be a reminder of home and that someone is thinking about them. I think that's why it means so much to them."
Monthly packages often center around a holiday, and contain socks, toiletries, candy, snacks, powdered drinks and something fun, such as a squirt gun, water balloons, popcorn, or movies. Letters and greeting cards come from churches, school children and others. At Christmas, ACTS sends out two packages to each recipient, including one which contains a small Christmas tree.
Volunteers have assembled the packages at various locations over the years, and now work out of a local Realtor's office. ACTS relies exclusively on cash and product donations, she said.
Mercado's son-in-law was so touched by the ACTS packages he arranged to have an American flag flown in Biederman's honor over an Afghanistan military base in November.
Aure's actions moved Biederman, but also reminded her of the tragedies many soldiers face. He was part a squadron which had trained Afghanistan personnel only to have one shoot to death nine of them in Kabul in 2011.
Aure is not the only one who's grateful. Kevin Doncaster came to appreciate ACTS after supply lines got cut off in Iraq and he was surviving on Doritos. Then, monthly care package came full of items for a festive Mexican meal. After returning home for awhile, Doncaster was deployed again to Afghanistan and is back on the ACTS mailing list.
Though political sentiment over U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is often divided and some politicians try to use ACTS for their own gains, Biederman said the organization remains unpolitical at its core.
Its mission, she said, is simple -- to remind American soldiers they are thought of and supported. Care packages are sent to soldiers living all over the country, not just from American Canyon, she said.
"We're just doing it for the soldiers. There's no other reason," Thompson said.
For more details on American Canyon Troop Support, go the ACTS Facebook page. Names of soldiers overseas who would like to get a package can be given to Biederman by calling her at (707) 319-7677, emailing her at email@example.com, or sending her a letter to ACTS PO Box 10097, American Canyon, CA 94503.
Contact staff writer Sarah Rohrs at firstname.lastname@example.org or (707) 553-6832. Follow her on Twitter @SarahVTH.