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Local group sends packages to overseas military
Letters from Home hopes to send more than 400 packages
U.S. Postal Service clerk Laurie Bramlett, right, processes dozens of care packages Monday for Becky Pratt, left, Letters from Home executive founder, and co-founder Bonnie Marshall, center, at the Green Street post office in Gainesville. The packages will be sent to Marines in Afghanistan in time for the holiday season. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

How to help
Visit Letters from Home to write a letter, send items for care packages or donate money for shipping.

Becky Pratt and Bonnie Marshall stood in line at the Green Street post office Monday morning, pulling along a cart of 80 packages.

The boxes of footballs, books, Christmas ornaments and letters written by local students were packaged up and ready to head to Marines in Afghanistan in time for the holidays.

Pratt and Marshall, executive founder and co-founder of Letters from Home, plan to send more than 400 packages this holiday season to all branches of the U.S. armed forces to remind soldiers of home.

“It doesn’t matter if we talk to guys who are there or recruiters here in Gainesville, they always tear up,” Pratt said. “Even though he hadn’t been deployed in years, a local guy told me that sending letters from students and Santa hats not only helped him get up in the morning, it helped the people under him as well.”

Marshall, whose son was deployed overseas, met Pratt when both were contacting local recruiters almost two years ago to send care packages. That’s when they teamed up to make the group official.

On Monday, Dennis Smalley, chaplain for Disabled American Veterans of Gainesville-Hall County, hauled in two large boxes of tennis shoes, which local soldiers specially requested.

“Some of them are training in the sand with sandals,” Marshall said.

Smalley, who served during the Vietnam War, said he knows exactly how much the Marines will appreciate this round of packages.

“Probably three men in my whole platoon of 100 got a package from home in 1968. The loaf of bread might be half green by the time it got to us, but we had a ball with Spam sandwiches for our Thanksgiving meal,” he said with a laugh.

“It just meant the world to us to receive items we couldn’t get to a local store to buy.”

New T-shirts, washcloths and magazines — even old ones — were a simple reminder of home.

“One year, I got a small fake Christmas tree in August and knew I would be shipping out in a couple of months, so I left it for the guys,” Smalley said. “There’s just no way to explain how much it means to get a package.”

At $12.50 a box for shipping, Pratt and Marshall are looking for donations to send out the rest of this year’s holiday boxes.

They called a friendly hello to post office clerk Laurie Bramlett as they pulled up the large bin of packages.

“I know these ladies. I’ve been working with them for awhile now, and it’s always inspiring when they come in,” she said.

“It’s awesome to process these boxes and know they’re going to the soldiers. I would do anything to help out when they’re sacrificing their lives for us.”

Matt Bryner, a city carrier for Green Street’s post office, was among the group of soldiers who returned from Afghanistan Friday night to the Gainesville-based 802nd Ordnance Company’s U.S. Army Reserve armory off Shallowford Road.

“One of ours came home,” Bramlett said. “I got to hug him today when he visited us.”