Group seeks donations for troops

COVINGTON -- Soldiers based at the Covington National Guard Armory who are deployed in Afghanistan aren't expecting a home-style Thanksgiving dinner.

But if Newton County residents are willing to help, they could be getting one.

The Family Readiness Group has partnered with Main Street Covington and other businesses and organizations to make this Thanksgiving one to remember for the soldiers of Bravo Company, 1/121st Infantry of the Georgia National Guard's 48th Brigade.

They are soliciting monetary donations from the community to purchase food and Christmas decorations to ship to Afghanistan for the holiday.

But the shipment must go out by Nov. 12, so donations must be made as soon as possible.

Main Street Covington has partnered with BB&T banks in Newton, Rockdale and Walton counties to open an account for donations. Anyone who is interested should go by a BB&T branch and request to make a donation to Main Street Covington Operation Patriots Call.

The money that is collected will go to purchase traditional Thanksgiving food, such as roast turkey and ham, vegetables, rolls, cranberry sauce and dressing and gravy mixes, said Kim Schroeder, family readiness coordinator for Bravo Company. Members of Conyers First United Methodist Church are making baked goods to send as well.

The food will be frozen, packed on dry ice and shipped in time to arrive by Thanksgiving Day, along with a Christmas tree, decorations and holiday music.

Volunteers said they'll need money to feed about 200 people, plus the cost of decorations. A local military advocacy group, Warriors Watch Riders, has offered to pay for shipping, but Schroeder said she is hoping to collect enough funds to reimburse them as well.

Staff Sgt. Robert Swanson, who is on duty at the Covington Armory, said he knows firsthand how much the troops will appreciate the Thanksgiving meal, since he's been in their shoes before during the holidays.

"The meal situation is not very good. They never go hungry, but they get the basics over and over, cooked by an Afghan local. So you can imagine that there is no concept of what Thanksgiving is all about, nor how to prepare or even source supplies necessary to have a proper Thanksgiving meal and, as you can imagine, the chow hall is devoid of any sign of the holidays," he said. "Our mission is to provide the soldiers with a real Thanksgiving meal, along with music and decorations. They are not expecting this, and we are excited that they will get a huge morale boost from this effort, not to mention home-cooked food."

Another way to help with the effort is to attend the Turkeys for Troops event at Chili's Grill and Bar locations in Conyers, Snellville, McDonough and the Lindbergh Atlanta location. On Monday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Chili's will donate 10 percent of proceeds toward paying for the Thanksgiving meal.

Other efforts to support the troops are also ongoing. Families of the soldiers will be participating in the Dec. 5 Covington Christmas parade, and afterwards they will be treated to a luncheon. Any businesses, organizations or individuals who would like to donate or help with the event should call Main Street Covington at 770-385-2077.

Also, Schroeder is asking the community to purchase $1 plastic shoe boxes, usually available at most Dollar Tree or Dollar General stores and pack them with Christmas gifts for the troops. Typically, care packages include basic necessities such as toothpaste and foot powder, but these packages are meant to be treats for the solders, she said.

"They have that stuff sent out on a pretty regular basis. This will be a Christmas package under the tree," she said.

Ideas for gifts include candy, card games, hand-held electronic games such as Scrabble and Monopoly, books, puzzles and DVDs.

"Over there the winter will be very long and cold. We're praying the soldiers will be bored because all the Taliban and the bad guys will retreat to the caves," she said.

The boxes should be delivered to Curves at 1105 West Ave. in Conyers or 55 Crowell Road in Covington. They will be wrapped at the Covington Armory on Dec. 5. For more information, call 770-262-0265.