When the coronavirus pandemic caused businesses to shutter, it also halted many nonprofits across the Santa Clarita Valley, and Prayer Angels for the Military’s efforts were among them.
“Operation Forget Me Not,” a frequent care package-decorating and card-making event held by the organization, was scheduled for early April, but had to be canceled due to the stay-at-home order.
Suzon Gerstel, president of the Prayer Angels, didn’t let that stop her from getting those Easter packages out to the troops serving overseas.
Enlisting the help of her husband, Dale, they decided on a “Plan B” — decorating, packing and then shipping 104 packages by themselves “on behalf of the SCV,” according to Gerstel.
“We actually did more than we thought (we would). I don’t think my husband ever planned to do so many,” she said, chuckling. “It was a big effort because we like to decorate the flaps, but we found a more streamlined way and got it done.”
A “Blue Star mother” herself, a term for military parents whose children are in active service, Gerstel knows the importance of a package from home.
“Our packages are from the community,” she added. “It’s even more special (for the troops) to know they have that support from their hometown.”
Even so, with no event for volunteers to bring their donations, they exhausted their supplies on this batch of packages. “We actually ran out of donations for the last of the packages, so a few of them went out late.”
Through the pandemic, it’s been difficult to acquire more donations, and Gerstel has been purchasing things online to fill the gap.
“I can’t ask people to go shopping for stuff because they should only really be out shopping for themselves,” she added. “This is kind of new for us because every penny we get (typically) goes to postage, so we really rely on the community for donations.”
Now, Gerstel is seeking the community’s support to continue sending out monthly packages, which are red-, white- and blue-themed this month to celebrate National Military Appreciation Month and Armed Forces Day in May.
Though volunteers cannot gather, Gerstel says there are many ways they can help, such as donating supplies, like snacks or blank paper and envelopes, and decorating empty boxes.
“They’re still out there working for us, so we really don’t want to forget them, even if it’s just people (making) cards at home, just to let them know that we care,” she added. “A lot of times, I have the school classrooms making cards, but schools aren’t in right now, so we really have a lack of cards.”
While she isn’t sure if she’ll be able to send the typical large box, filled to the brim with donations, she hopes to have enough to send smaller packages or perhaps large ones not as often.
“I don’t think we’ll be mailing out as many, but I can hope and pray that there’s enough of us that can still contribute something,” Gerstel said.
A donation bin is available outside Prayer Angels for the Military, located at 21609 Oak Orchard Road in Newhall.