Spouse calls: Help troops by preparing gift bags
September 21, 2008
Tawny Campbell knows little things make a big difference: little things like gift bags.
Tawny, an Army wife, is the power behind Project Rudolph, a charity providing Christmas gift bags for thousands of deployed and wounded troops, and Operation Angel, reaching wounded warriors year round.
Tawny and her husband, Joe, a flight medic, came to Landstuhl, Germany, in 2006. Looking for a way to celebrate Christmas, Tawny said they decided to create and distribute gift bags at nearby Ramstein PAX Terminal, a hub for troops headed downrange.
They decorated brown lunch bags, filled them with candy, a Christmas ornament, poem and handwritten letters. A plan for a hundred or so bags became a thousand, and Project Rudolph was born.
Operation Angel followed quickly. A few gift bags remained after Christmas, so the Campbells handed them out New Year’s Day at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
"A patient told us: ‘You’re doing something more than fixing my physical wounds,’" Tawny recalled. "I thought, if that meant so much to him, what about the rest of the year?"
Operation Angel was named for the Campbell’s 5-year-old daughter, Ceilidha. Tawny explained that Ceilidha (Kuh-LEE-uh) liked to wear a pair of gauzy angel wings on her visits to the hospital and was nicknamed "little angel."
Tawny’s photo of Ceilidha — wings and all — pushing a wounded soldier in his wheelchair, appears on www.operationangel.homestead.com, and has won several awards. This year it was chosen by AAFES to appear on the 10-cent POG distributed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tawny, a professional photographer and author, puts her talents to work to support her charities. She said winnings from photo contests and sales from her book "Dear Soldier," (Springcreek Books, 2007) are used to create more bags.
Angel bags are similar to Project Rudolph bags, without the Christmas flavor. Tawny estimates they hand out 50 to 75 bags weekly at LRMC.
Last Christmas, although her husband was deployed, Tawny expanded Project Rudolph to send gift bags downrange to units who requested them. The goal that year was 2,500. They distributed 4,000.
"This year, the goal is 7,000," Tawny said. "Who knows what we’ll do?"
Tawny said the success of these projects depends on willing helpers from around the world, groups — and individuals, starting now.
Volunteers can write letters and decorate bags, no matter where they live. Project Rudolph volunteers in Germany will fill bags on the first two Saturdays in December, or help with distribution.
Tawny, expecting her second child and Joe’s return from deployment this December, said help is welcome this year more than ever.
"I’ve had people say, ‘It’s a stupid brown paper bag. What difference can that make?’" Tawny said. "They think because it’s a simple thing it may not have much impact."
On the www.projectrudolph.home stead.com guest book, one soldier writes that his Project Rudolph bag was his only Christmas gift. Such stories keep Tawny going, she said.
"If only you could see for a moment the impact of these little things, you would go out of your way to make a difference."
The impact, Tawny points out, is not only in receiving, but also in giving.
"I saw how much my daughter loved it," she said. "I saw how it changed her view of the world. She learned at a very young age the importance of serving others."
Find more information about Project Rudolph, Operation Angel and Tawny’s other efforts on behalf of military members and families at www.project rudolph.homestead.com or by e-mailing Tawny at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her charities are listed as "Project TLC: Serving Those Who Serve" by America Supports You (www.americasupportsyou.mil), the official Department of Defense Web site encouraging support of US Military troops around the world.
Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives and works in Germany. Contact her at email@example.com and see the Spouse Calls blog at http://blogs.stripes.com.blogs/spousecalls.