SPRING HILL — A quartet of women behind an effort to honor the service of military personnel has been overwhelmed by the project's early success.
More than 85 U.S. flags have been donated since May 1 to the Star Project, which aims to give current military personnel and veterans a memento for their service: a star from a worn flag along with a note of support and thanks.
"That's more than we expected in a month," said Barbara Burke, one of the coordinators.
The four women, all of whom have been involved for several years in support-the-troops efforts, cut the stars from the flags, as allowed by law, and turn the stripes over to local VFW posts and Boy Scout troops for proper incineration.
The stars are packaged individually in a plastic bag with a note. Inside every box are homemade cookies baked for a separate effort, the Treat the Troops project, Burke said.
Other stars are handed out to veterans and active service personnel the women encounter.
"They might have on a Vietnam ball cap. You can just tell a World War II veteran; they might be wearing a flag pin," Burke said.
"Response from the troops has been very emotional in a positive way," she said, "that we just recognize the sacrifices they have made and are making."
The women put out the plea for worn and faded banners in late April. Chick-fil-A on Cortez Boulevard offered its aid, providing not just a drop point, but a free meal to any donor.
It's not the first time the restaurant has pitched in to boost military morale.
Last year, owner John Mitten pledged a free dessert to anyone who brought in a greeting card or note of thanks destined for service personnel with the local Black Hawk helicopter detachment. More than 1,000 notes came in.
Although donors were limited to one dessert per contribution, Burke noted, "When a teacher brought in letters from her class, Chick-fil-A gave ice cream for each kid."
This year, Mitten said he wanted to do more, hence the free meal deal throughout May.
"It just blew us away," Burke said of herself and cohorts Dee Mills, Jan Zabel and Linda Kidwell.
Others have stepped in to assist with the effort. Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9236 in Hernando Beach collected faded and tattered flags for the project.
"It speaks so much of the citizens of Hernando County," Burke said of the outpouring of support.
Linda Heady, one of Burke's helpers, noted an inquiry from a woman in Pasco County who wanted to mail a flag for the project.
"She wouldn't even get a free meal," Heady said.
Names of currently serving military personnel, as star recipients, have been gleaned from Web sites such as treatthetroops.org and americasupportsyou.mil.
"Word has spread through the troops," Burke said, "and they have got into the Web sites and (learned of the project) through word of mouth."
Sorting through the donations, Heady said most flags are heavy-duty nylon with embroidered stars, "some really faded, tattered around the edges, all sizes." The group is seeking U.S. flags with stars at least the size of a half-dollar.
Flag donations will be collected at Chick-fil-A through May 31.
Beth Gray can be contacted at email@example.com.