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Santa Moms and Dads

Christmas miracle needed to get care package to Canadian troops in Afghanistan

By —— Bio and Archives--December 13, 2007

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Gabrielle Eckhardt  What a let down that 1,700 care packages lovingly prepared by Montreal-area residents and community groups destined for Canadian troops in Afghanistan, won’t be getting there.

  The Christmas care packages for soldiers have been grounded after the military said they could not be sent overseas.

Claiming security concerns and a lack of space on transport aircraft as reasons for blocking the packages, Canadian Forces brass informed nonplussed members of the Roxboro Legion, who spearheaded the drive that they cannot accept the packages.  Parcels must be addressed to a specific soldier, the military said, and not “Any CF member”.

  While citing security concerns would take some of the sting out of the snub, lack of space seems plain callous.

  Organizers are naturally devastated, especially Jean Bisson, whose son Capt. Mike Bisson of the Royal Canadian Hussars was a catalyst in launching the drive.

  “A peacekeeper in Bosnia, he told local legion members how touched he was to receive a care package from Ontario while he was overseas. (CanWest News Service, Dec. 11, 2007). “Not so much the contents, but just the fact people were thinking of him,” Jean Bisson said.  “It was a touch of home.”

  Her other son, David, has been serving in Afghanistan since June, also with the Hussars.  Aiding in the collection helped t o take her mind off her worries.

  A lot of heart and work went into this project. Indeed, members started canvassing back in June, collecting from community centres, churches, schools, and other legions to fill boxes with shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, wet wipes, playing cards and letters or cards sending messages of comfort and thanks.

  “We had children, some as young as five-year-old, making pictures to send over,” Bisson said.  “Members from a veterans hospital also submitted messages and gifts.”

  The generous Montreal-area town of Dollard-des-Ormeaux also donated funds.  Mayor Ed Janiszewski expressed regrets that the project has been derailed.

  It’s the Christmas season when anything can happen and Bisson was holding out hope that a solution could still be found, if not in time for December 25, then perhaps New Year’s or even afterwards.  “The soldiers will still be there,” she said.

  The balking at sending the care packages to soldiers in harm’s way is mysterious, given that officials had guaranteed delivery when originally contacted.

  Richard Shannon, a former vice-president of the Roxboro Legion who spearheaded the project, said he was livid after the military had given their assurances they would accept the boxes when the project was getting off the ground.

  “I’m not well, and I’m very upset about this,” said the ailing veteran.

  “They said all the way along, this project is guaranteed, he added.  “It was okay, everything was good, and all of a sudden they pulled the plug.”

  Perhaps it’s time for the Roxboro Legion to call on Christmas angel, Gabrielle Eckhardt, wife of senior Canada Free Press (CFP) columnist Klaus Rohrich.

  A “Santa Mom” of the Canadian troops, last year Eckhardt spearheaded a Christmas campaign that gave a package to every single Canadian soldier in Afghanistan—no matter how lonely their outpost.

  And the lesson she learned, firsthand was one that showed the love of our troops by small-town Canada.

  The “Goodies for Soldiers” campaign could never have happened without the communities of Cobourg and Port Hope, two small towns less than an hour east of Toronto.  The towns’ combined population is just over 25,000.  Yet, during the three-week campaign, the townspeople managed to put together enough packages to give every Canadian soldier in Afghanistan a package to make them feel closer to home at Christmas.

Gabrielle’s was a campaign that involved young and old working against the clock to make sure that personal care packages for Canadian troops would arrive in time for Christmas.

  At the time her son, Jonathan Rohrich, in the Canadian Armed Forces was soon to be stationed in Afghanistan.

  “The idea that chap sticks, deodorant, razors or candy bars were hard for our soldiers to get dismayed me,” she said.  “That’s when I decided I wanted to do something to help.”

  She started the ball rolling with the assistance of the Cobourg Fire Department and the Port Hope and Cobourg Police Services, who agreed to act as collection centers for the campaign.  Local townspeople threw their full support to put together packages from a list obtained from soldiers who had been to Afghanistan.

  Packing, organizing and preparation for shipping to Afghanistan was done with the assistance of the local Army Cadet Corps.  The result was nine skids of care packages, each containing roughly 220 individual goody bags.

  When it means that Christmas 2007 will be more than just another day for courageous Canadian troops protecting our freedom in faraway Afghanistan, the 1,700 care packages sitting in Montreal, should be delivered to the troops.

  As Gabrielle Eckhardt would say, “Where there’s a will, there’s got to be a way.”

Judi McLeod -- Bio and Archives | Comments

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Judi McLeod is an award-winning journalist with 30 years’ experience in the print media. A former Toronto Sun columnist, she also worked for the Kingston Whig Standard. Her work has appeared on Rush Limbaugh,, Drudge Report,

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