LMHS Support Program offers assistance to soldiers overseas, their families
The Lee Memorial Health System Military Support Program continues to offer assistance to deployed troops and their families due to its motto “we’re not stopping until the last one comes home.”
Military Support Coordinator Kim Gaide, who has worked for the Lee Memorial Health System for more than 25 years, decided she wanted to do something for the troops because her son was in the service for many years before he was honorably discharged and now works in the community.
Every month, Gaide and a slew of volunteers fill care packages full of items like Ramen noodles, socks, beef jerky, suntan lotion, hygiene items, magazines, hard candy and snacks for the soldiers who are deployed. She said if there is a need for items sooner, they will send care packages out twice a month.
Since May 2003, 34,000 pounds of care packages have been sent to deployed soldiers in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea and Japan.
Gaide said the group is notified by family members, deployed soldiers or Lee Memorial Health System employees of who is in need of care packages.
The next group of care packages will be sent out July 19. Items needed include wet wipes; bubble gum and hard candy; white socks; toilet paper; chicken flavor Ramen noodles; meat in pouches like tuna, chicken, salami, beef jerky and pepperoni; lip balm; suntan lotion and snack packs like fruit, pudding and cheese and crackers.
There are two locations in Cape Coral where donations can be dropped off — the Cape Coral Hospital human resource office, 636 Del Prado Blvd., and the Santa Barbara Office Complex, 224 Santa Barbara Blvd.
The program has also helped more than 975 local troops and their families since its inception.
Gaide has an email distribution list where she keeps the families and military supporters informed of what is going on at the beginning of every month, so they can participate in different activities, along with meeting a need they may have.
“My phone is on 24/7,” she said in case someone needs something. “Sometimes the families (moms or wives) just need someone to talk to who have gone through what they are going through.”
The Military Support Program also began clipping coupons for military families to help them financially.
“We had heard from our own local gals stationed with their husbands all over the United States and overseas that coupons would certainly be very helpful since their budget is so tight,” Gaide said. “We started sending them to Germany and Ft. Hood, Texas, to see how it would go — it was every woman for herself when that box was tipped over on the table. Everyone has a different coupon need.”
Peggy Wainwright, 85, and Mildred Ratcliff, 89, who are residents at Juniper Village, have clipped more than $20,000 worth of coupons in the past 18 months.
Wainwright, who is originally from Tampa, moved to Juniper Village three years ago. She spent the majority of her life as a teacher before retiring.
Ratcliff, who was born in Brooklyn, moved to Juniper Village two years ago. She worked for a Catholic newspaper in New York for 30 years.
Daisy Godbee, activities director at Juniper Village, said the women receive coupons from staff, family, visitors, the Red Cross and Gaide for the ongoing project.
The two women who are roommates and the best of friends sit at a round table next to the dining room every day for at least four hours to cut coupons, while joking and catching up on old stories.
“It gives us something to do and it’s worthwhile,” Wainwright said about why she has been cutting coupons for almost two years. “If it helps someone, that’s the name of the game.”
She said the coupon cutting is enjoyable because they do not have a deadline hanging over their head, they can go at their own speed.
“That’s what makes it fun,” Wainwright said.
Ratcliff said she enjoys cutting coupons because she knows she is helping the service people.
“That is the main reason,” she said. “It is the least we can do for them.”
Ratcliff said if it saves the service people money, then that is a big thanks to us.
Godbee said Wainwright and Ratcliff cut at least 400-500 coupons a day. She said she has to drag them away from cutting coupons to go to church and to exercise because they are so dedicated.
As they cut the coupons, they put them in their own separate piles of what month it expires, so they can later put them in a plastic bag that is labeled with the expiration month.
The most touching part of cutting coupons for the women is when they read letters from the recipients.
“It makes it worth it,” Wainwright said with a smile.
Ratcliff agreed in saying that the letters make her feel good about what she is doing.
The St. James City Hobby Club, Deep Creek Elks Club in Punta Gorda and Alpha Delta Alpha Sorority in North Fort Myers also clip coupons on a weekly basis to help the cause.
In addition to Wainwright and Ratcliff, Gaide said they also have coupon clippers as far as Wisconsin; Washington, D.C.; Ohio; and New York.
Gaide said a woman from Wisconsin, who used to visit the area every winter with her husband, also helps with coupons.
“She has asked her community to help and she sends a toaster size box every month that we then forward on to our military moms and families,” she said.