For as long as Laura Landerman-Garber can remember, she had a simple rule when it came to Thanksgiving dinner in her house: If you wanted to eat, you had to make a card for a member of the military.
So her kids would draw pictures and write little notes. Depending on how many people attended the holiday meals, they would have at least 20 cards to distribute.
It’s been a long-standing tradition that has sent cards all over, with residents at the N.H. Veterans Home being the recipients the last couple years.
But when someone near and dear to their family was deployed to the USS Theodore Roosevelt in October, Landerman-Garber decided to send this past year’s crop of holiday greetings to the ship.
It started out with the idea of sending them to a certain grouping on the boat, but soon it turned into so much more.
There are about 5,500 members of the U.S. Navy aboard the Roosevelt, so Landerman-Garber set a goal of 5,000 cards.
“I was like, ‘Okay, we can do that,’ ” she said.
She sent out messages on Facebook and called local churches, hospitals and schools in her home area of Hollis for her Holiday Card Challenge. And what ensued is quite remarkable.
“The cards just started pouring in,” Landerman-Garber said.
Landerman-Garber got quite the response – including from the Concord High SOCK Club – and the Saturday after Thanksgiving, she sent out seven boxes that included close to 16,000 cards, weighing in around 500 pounds. All but 400 of the cards went to that Navy ship (the rest went to another boat at the request of a Vietnam veteran).
“Some of the cards were hilarious and some were heart-wrenching,” Landerman-Garber said.
Almost 10 percent of the cards came via Concord High. Junior Cait McAllister saw a flyer about the project and brought the idea to members of the SOCK Club.
The student-run leadership and service project organization – SOCK stands for Save Our Cold Kids – works to provide support and raise awareness for homeless children and their families in Concord.
But this was too good of an opportunity to pass up. The student members of the club were on board, and McAllister figured if each person made one card, they would have 20 or 30 to send. After a video played on CHS Live, the whole school got involved. It didn’t hurt that there was a free pizza party on the line.
“It just ballooned into this school-wide thing,” McAllister said.
Each advisory was challenged to put together the largest number of quality holiday cards, and the winner would get free pizza courtesy of Sal’s Pizza. And we all know high school students will do just about anything for free pizza.
“We just wanted to be involved,” said Howie Leung, adviser to the SOCK Club. “One of the major things we want to do is help support people in the community.”
The winning advisory generated more than 60 cards for the cause – and got their well-deserved pizza party last week.
“It was overwhelming looking at more than 1,000 cards on a desk,” McAllister said. “A lot of people wrote about the military members in their family, others told jokes. It was a wide range of things.”
We’re happy to report that the cards made it to the USS Theodore Roosevelt the Friday before Christmas, and Landerman-Garber heard they were much appreciated.
“He said it lifted the spirits for the whole holidays,” she said. “I wasn’t sure they’d get them, but they did.”
Along the way, Landerman-Garber spoke with Gov. Chris Sununu and members of the New Hampshire Senate, and this project is now taking on a life of its own.
The goal is to have cards made statewide next year and “blow (this year’s total) out of the water” – somewhere along the lines of 5,000 to 10,000 for each branch of the military.
So even if you’re hearing about the project for the first time right now, there’s still a way you can get involved and help.
Since the objective is to surpass the 16,000 card total from this year, the N.H. Holiday Card Challenge (which it has been renamed to) is in search of unused holiday cards.
If you have some left over from this year that you didn’t get around to filling out, had extras or have a few boxes sitting in the basement that you bought on clearance one year and forgot to use, you might want to consider donating them all. Because, as you can see, the first step toward next year is getting enough cards.
Through the end of January, Sal’s Pizza on Storrs Street will have a collection box where you can put all those unused cards to good use.
“People always have unused Christmas cards,” Landerman-Garber said. “They add up, even if they only have a couple.”
Concord High will also have a collection box going through the end of the month.
“Since this was such a success, we’re going to hopefully make it an annual thing,” said junior Mckenna Anderson. “I definitely did not think it would be this big of a deal and we’d get this many cards.”
And if you don’t have any cards lying around, you can probably find some good deals at all kinds of stores. Just saying.
For more info, contact Landerman-Garber at firstname.lastname@example.org or search Holiday Card Challenge on Facebook.
“It’s been a family tradition and now it’s a personal mission,” Landerman-Garber said. “It’s a very tangible thing.”