October 26, 2021

A reminder of home

Homer Elks mail care packages to troops overseas

Photos provided by Jelena Barnes

Coffee donated by roaster Abner Argueta of Freeville was included in the care packages sent to service members.

Coffee, peanuts, chocolate and thank-you notes may not seem like much, but when you’re overseas it’s everything and most of all it’s a reminder of home.

Just ask veteran Norm Stitzel, a former Marine.

“When you’re 8,000 miles from home and you get a care package, it’s an amazing thing,” he said.

Stitzel was among 14 others a part of the Homer Elks Lodge No. 2506 Veterans Committee who spent months raising funds, and gathering coffee from roaster Abner Argueta of Freeville, to create and mail 20 care packages overseas to Army Staff Sgt. Thomas Frost and his troops in Afghanistan.

Frost, a Cortland County native, was recently deployed to Afghanistan. He was also a friend of Stitzel’s, having known each other for 10 years and they both went to Faith Baptist Church in Homer.

“I don’t personally know him, but I feel like I do,” committee Chairwoman Jelena Barnes said. “We try to find someone in Cortland County.”

Last year, the committee, which had formed in November 2017, sent 13 packages to a Homer police officer and her troops after she had been called to active duty.

Barnes isn’t a veteran but said they hold a special place in her heart, with her grandfather and brother-in-law both having served.

The Homer Elks Veterans Committee prepares 20 care packages Wednesday to send overseas to Afghanistan for Cortland County resident Staff Sgt. Thomas Frost and his troops. Packages contained coffee, peanuts, beef jerky, candy and other snacks that let the service members know how much the club appreciates them and remind them a little of home.

“These people are willing to die for us and our freedom and they should be taken care of,” Barnes said. “We say, ‘Let’s send them some love.’”

Stitzel said he remembered receiving care package months after being deployed and how the snacks were stale by the time they got to him. However, he and fellow soldiers sat down at a table and ate the snacks from the box.

“You couldn’t have seen a bunch of guys more happy,” he said. “They’re just absolute gold.”

Stitzel also said the snacks, specifically candy, help the soldiers in other ways.

“Giving a kid in Afghanistan a Jolly Rancher — that really helps with foreign relations,” he said.

Steve Stowell, the commander of Sons of the American Legion, participated in the event to honor his father, who served in the Air Force.

“It was my way to give back,” he said. “I’m proud to be involved in something like this and I’m proud of all my family members who have served in the military.”

The packages also contained thank-you notes and colored pictures created by area youths.

Stitzel said the most important part of the package is the morale boost it can give the soldiers.

“There’s always someone serving overseas, we can’t forget that,” he said. “We need to let them know they’re not forgotten.”

He knows of about 60 soldiers from Cortland County serving overseas or on active reserve.

Barnes said the committee hopes to send out two packages a year.

“We know that they’re still out there and we want them to know we are thinking of them,” Barnes said.

The snacks and shipping cost around $700 and the packages could take about three weeks to get to them. However, the cost didn’t matter to committee members who wanted the soldiers to read the card kids in the community and committee members made to show how thankful they are.

“Thank you hero you make America proud. With love and gratitude Homer Elks Lodge #2506,” the note said.