Local woman spearheads effort to benefit troops

By Greg Miller

STAR STAFF
gmiller@starhq.com

  
Natalie Younce is recruiting an army of local residents who want to make a positive difference in the lives of soldiers who are currently risking their lives on the front lines of the war in Iraq.
   "We're trying to collect any type of supplies that soldiers could use on the front lines that they don't have access to," Younce said of the "Operation Encouragement" project. "We're basically wanting to show the troops our support. Regardless of how we feel about the war, I think we owe them our support, if we can give them anything that will make their lives over there a little more comfortable."
   Items must be sealed for security reasons. Requested items include the following: Peanuts, pretzels, crackers, condiment packets, sweetened drink mixes, packets of coffee, creamer, sugar and hot chocolate, beef jerky, Slim Jims, wrap around sunglasses, saline eye wash, telephone calling cards, skin lotion, toothpaste and toothbrushes, soap, sealed hand wash pads, antibacterial hand cleaner, lip balm, suntan lotion, foot powder, nail clippers, batteries (assorted sizes, especially AA), envelopes, writing tablets, pens, magazines, pocket-sized games (batteries must be packaged separately), and individually-wrapped hard candy. Zip-lock bags are requested to help protect individual items from the sand.
   Examples of items that cannot be sent include Bibles or other religious material; securities, currency or precious metals in a raw unmanufactured state; or obscene or horror material.
   Residents can deliver their donated items to the following locations: Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce; Roan Mountain, Pinecrest and main branch locations of Carter County Bank; and inside K.P. Duty Gourmet Cafe in The Mall at Johnson City.
   A final deadline to drop off the donations has not been set, according to Younce. "The way that we're looking at this is it's going to be a continuing, ongoing type thing for as long as we can still get community support and donations," she commented. "We hope to keep doing this even possibly when the peacekeeping forces are in place after the war is over. There are just going to be things that they can't get over there."
   Although the project may benefit any of the troops serving in Iraq, "We're going to specifically try to aim for the units that have left out of Gray, because they are the ones that are on the front lines right now," Younce said.
   Younce decided to become involved after hearing about a similar project being conducted in Bristol. "I thought, 'That's something that needs to be done around here,''' she remarked. "When I got to doing some checking, I found out that there wasn't. I just felt patriotic, and I wanted to help."
   Younce attends Lighthouse for Jesus Church, Elizabethton. Her husband, Keith, owns K.Y. Construction Co.
   "The thing that we need to get out to people is you can't do this type of thing as a little individual effort here and there. It does have to be through the National Guard because of the security and safety of the troops. This is through the National Guard. We're cooperating with them. Once we have the supplies collected and boxed, they will be the ones responsible for seeing that they are mailed," she said.
   Younce said she is upset by the actions of those who are protesting against the war in Iraq. "I heard one woman in particular in an interview saying that it was her right to protest," she remarked. "I just feel like we need to stop and remember who fought and died in wars to give us that right, regardless of whether we agree or not. They're over there trying to keep us free from the things that happened on 9-11, to keep that from happening again and us living in fear."
   Eventually, Younce said, the project may channel resources to local families "who are suffering from the loss of income" of a husband or wife who has been deployed.
   Financial donations will be channeled through the National Guard, Younce said. "We are not going to be handling any money ourselves. We don't want that responsibility. It will be going to the National Guard to use for postage and handling for the boxes. A 10-pound box sent priority mail runs about eight dollars," she said.
   Checks should be made payable to "730th QM Family Readiness," C/O Colene Treadway, 271 Broyles Road, Bristol, TN 37620.
   For more information, call 423-747-4872 from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. The line will be activated Tuesday.