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Nazarene church volunteers fill boxes with goodies for troops
Dozens of balloons are launched into the sky Saturday after a rally for soldiers at the Gainesville First Church of Nazarene in Gainesville. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
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People interested in sending care packages to troops overseas can e-mail Becky Pratt at
Army Sgt. Daniel Bowers knows what it is like to open a care package from 7,000 miles away while deployed in a combat zone.

During his time serving in Afghanistan, the cardboard boxes stuffed with letters, reading materials, sweets, toiletries and other items served as yet another motivator for the fighting forces overseas, Bowers acknowledged Saturday.

“You get a package like that, and it’s like Christmas every week,” Bowers said. “It makes your day. It puts a smile on your face after all the stuff you see.”

Bowers was the guest of honor at a rally held Saturday at Gainesville’s First Church of the Nazarene, where about 100 people came to see photos of the soldiers overseas, listen to patriotic music and, most importantly, put together care packages for more than 50 troops from all branches of the armed forces.

The “letters from home” effort started with a list of 10 names and quickly grew, said Becky Pratt, the project’s main organizer. Pratt was inspired to start the effort after hearing from the son of a friend who said letters from home were what he most cherished while deployed overseas.

“If that can make them feel better and keep their spirits up, then I was on a mission,” Pratt said.

Bonnie Marshall, whose son, Taylor, just completed a tour of duty as an Army specialist in Iraq, met up with Pratt through the local

Army recruiting station. Together, they have spearheaded the work to keep the packages coming.

“It keeps their spirits buoyed,” Marshall said.

The 50 troops getting packages with Gainesville postmarks will have plenty of letters, from school children at Sardis Elementary to family members, veterans and people who don’t know them, but care.

“We must support our troops,” said church member Jim Brackett. “We have a very supportive church. This all got started with Becky, and we just fell in behind her.”

At the conclusion of Saturday’s rally, dozens of yellow balloons were released into the sky, a symbol of the support and prayers for the safety of U.S. troops overseas.

The boxes filled with scenic postcards from Georgia, cookies, air fresheners and stuffed, uniform-attired bears soon will be on their way to Afghanistan.

“It has blossomed into more than just care packages,” Brackett said. “They’re more like love packages.”