CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — Friends, family, and neighbors gathered today to pack 250 care packages for a State College nonprofit that’s grown to have a global impact. ‘A Soldier’s Hands’ sends mail to military units around the world, and it all began by chance.
“I happened to be on an airplane and there was an empty seat on an overbooked flight,” said Trish Shallenberger, founder of A Soldier’s Hands.
Because of that empty seat, Shallenberger noticed the young soldier sitting at the end of her row.
“I noticed that his hands were sunburned on the top, the bottoms had these quarter size welts, and it was incredibly painful,” said Shallenberger. “I gave him hand cream and he was so appreciative.”
The 19-year-old man was about to begin service in Iraq and Shallenberger felt compelled to send him care products once he arrived.
“What he said to me, which is the reason we’re here together almost 14 years later, he said, ‘I’m uncomfortable receiving something from you knowing not everyone will receive a mail call’,” said Shallenberger.
She asked how many people were in his unit and said she’d provide for them all.
“He said, 177,” said Shallenberger. “So, that was the beginning.”
To date, she’s sent over 15,000 care packages of sunscreen, lip balm, hand cream, and candy. It’s thanks to help from volunteers, local businesses, schools, and donors as well.
Each package is personal with a handwritten card.
“He said, you have to know, in some cases there are grown men crying, and that this is their first mail call,” said Shallenberger.
It’s a reminder that soldiers near and far are not forgotten.