Thank you very much for your wonderful care packages over the holidays! On behalf of my unit I wanted to let you know how much your generous gifts were appreciated. For many of us, myself included, this was the first time we spent Christmas away from our families and loved ones. That was difficult but receiving the great letters from the kids, the snacks and the beautiful Christmas ornaments really helped. It’s incredible Americans like yourselves that help us get through the long days over here. Thank you again and have a wonderful 2010!
–From a soldier serving in Kuwait.
This is one holiday tradition that really got out of hand.
What began as a six-week family project has now grown into a worldwide phenomenon – much to the delight of the thousands of participants and beneficiaries, but much to the chagrin of the Ray and Cheri Archibald family of Oakley.
“We can’t stop it. We had absolutely no idea that it would grow like it has,” said Cheri.
It’s Project Rudolph, a charity created in 2006 to give deployed troops and service members holiday cheer. It was created by the Archibalds’ daughter, Tawny Campbell, and her husband, Sgt. Joe Campbell, who are stationed in Germany.
Tawny’s original idea was to create 150 gift bags – filled with candy, handwritten letters from adults and children, ornaments, and other goodies – to distribute to soldiers. That number quickly grew to 750 bags, and then 1,500. Tawny’s younger brother, Ian Archibald, pitched in for his Eagle Scout project. When the six-week project was finished, the family let out a sigh of relief, “Glad that’s over!” they said.
But then the Archibalds got a letter in the mail from a soldier who had received one of the packages, expressing gratitude for what he said was the only thing he got for Christmas.
“We have to do this again,” Cheri said. “It’s because of those letters that we get back from the service men and women expressing how much it means to them.”
In five years, Project Rudolph has grown to distribute more than 14,000 bags this Christmas. What started as a small, local project now receives donations from 46 states and 12 foreign countries.
Sometimes the enormity of it all is overwhelming for the Archibalds, who are up until the wee hours of the night working on Project Rudolph. It’s turned into a year-round endeavor for Ray, a retired phone company worker, and Cheri, a substitute teacher and private music teacher. It’s gotten to the point where they’d like to form a committee to help manage the project.
“It was OK to do as a family project, but if I had seen into the future that we would be presenting school assemblies, giving business presentations and public speaking – are you kidding me?” Cheri said. “On the other hand, it has changed our lives dramatically.”
For Tawny, Project Rudolph is just one of three charities she has founded – Operation Angel and Project Portrait are the others. For her efforts, the Campbells will fly to Washington DC in December to receive the Army Family of the Year award.
Cheri said that Project Rudolph has benefited more than just the soldiers who receive the packages.
“When we started this, I knew we were doing good for the soldiers overseas. I knew we were reaching out to them and that we would be able to brighten their Christmas,” she said. “But what I did not realize would happen is we were also helping the people on this side – people who have always wanted to do something but didn’t know what or how.”
Families, church groups, schools and other organizations come together to make Project Rudolph happen. Cheri once received a phone call from a home-bound woman who had found a new purpose by writing letters to troops. She said, “Thank you for saving my life.”
Cheri is quick to deflect credit, saying her family simply funnels the goodwill.
“It just comes to us and we know where to send it,” Cheri said. “I really feel like we’re just a small part of this whole process. Whenever we get thank-yous from the soldiers, I just have to pass it on because it isn’t us, it’s all these thousands and thousands of other people who have jumped on the bandwagon.”
To get involved with Project Rudolph, Operation Angel or Project Portrait, visit www.projectrudolph.org or call 208-300-0197.
Thanks so much! You don’t know how much all of this means to all of us here. It makes me proud to be over here and know that we have the support from all over. Even though I can’t be home with my babies, I know that I have a reason to be here and receiving the little gift bags really made me feel appreciated and made it feel a little like the holidays. Everyone here appreciates it. Thanks so much for thinking of us.
-Sgt. Kelly A. Hein