Giving ‘hugs’

Children help bring comfort, Christmas to soldiers

Lisa Thomas of Lisa Thomas Salon helps package Hugs for our Soldiers care bags.

Lisa Thomas of Lisa Thomas Salon helps package Hugs for our Soldiers care bags.

Heritage Middle School students showing off their handiwork are, from left, Lexie Smith, Sydni Myers and Jordon Fitzgerald.

Heritage Middle School students showing off their handiwork are, from left, Lexie Smith, Sydni Myers and Jordon Fitzgerald.

Some Blount County students recently joined with Hugs For Our Soldiers and helped brighten the Christmas season for some military personnel returning home from serving their country in the war on terror.

Hugs For Our Soldiers is a nonprofit organization with its headquarters in Vonore and led by president Kathy Orcutt.

One of the missions of Hugs for Our Soldiers is to provide for the single soldiers returning home to empty barracks after a tour of duty. “The married soldiers are greeted by their spouses and are able to return to the comforts of their homes. We want to make sure that the single soldiers’ barracks are warm and welcoming as well,” Orcutt said of the campaign for the 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.

Word of this Welcome Home campaign for the 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, returning from Iraq just in time for Thanksgiving, reached Blount, Loudon, Monroe and Knox Counties. More than a thousand people donated goods or made monetary donations so that each of these 1,500 soldiers received food and hygiene items and found colorful Welcome Home signs decorating their rooms, Orcutt said.

Students from Alcoa Middle School, Heritage High School’s Freshman Academy, Little River Service Unit (Girl Scouts), Hillcrest Baptist Church and Walland Methodist Church took the time to personalize their snack bags with welcome home cards.

No sooner did this campaign come to an end than did Hugs kick off its “Christmas for Our Soldiers” drive. Gallon Ziplock bags were lined with Christmas paper and a variety of goodies were placed inside.

Business owner Lisa Thomas of Lisa Thomas Salon in Alcoa and her clients contributed more than 100 Christmas packages. Heritage Middle School teacher Leigh Terry’s 120 students made cards for each of the bags.

Orcutt said that some of their packages would be shipped to CPT Molly Price, a Marine helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, who would then distribute these gifts to other Marines. Local Army reservists who are in Iraq would receive Christmas packages, as would soldiers of the 4th Brigade, 101st Airborne who have been in Afghanistan since March.

“I am always amazed, but never surprised, at the number of people who come together to show their support of our military men and women,” Orcutt said. “Patriotism shines in East Tennessee.”

To learn more about Hugs for Our Soldiers, visit www.hugsforoursoldiers.org.

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