Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Valrico woman creates blank Christmas cards for deployed troops to send home

VALRICO — It started out a couple of years ago as a small-scale project run by a former soldier inside a Starbucks.

Jeri Fontana set up shop at two Valrico coffee shops while using her stamping craft to make several hundred greeting cards for troops stationed in the Middle East. As customers waited for their orders, Fontana, 45, would ask them for help.

Some made one card or donated money. Others spent hours volunteering and are still involved as Fontana's project, now called Christmas Cards for the Troops, has expanded.

"I think people dig deep when it comes to the holidays and the troops," said Fontana, who left the Army as a captain in 1996 after serving a combined 10 years on active duty and in the Reserves.

The cards Fontana sends overseas are blank inside and intended for service men and women to fill out and send back home to family and friends. She mails cards out four times a year for different holidays, but Christmas is her biggest operation.

Last year's honorary Brandon mayor, Tammy Holmberg, helped Fontana take the project to another level. For the second straight year, volunteers will make between 2,500 and 3,000 Christmas cards for service members to disperse to their loved ones.

Fontana and a few others have prepped the materials, while Holmberg and the current honorary mayor, Connie Smaldone, have raised money (each card costs about a dollar to make and send), but the work isn't done yet.

They need volunteers Oct. 24 at the Campo Family YMCA, where the cards will be stamped and assembled.

As a hobby and a business, Fontana teaches cardmaking and scrapbooking. Her husband is in the Army, and she started making the cards as part of a military spouse support group in fall 2007. The next spring, her Marine nephew kept her motivated when he deployed to Afghanistan.

Since the project's inception, Fontana has received several letters of gratitude from the troops.

"It definitely reinforces that we're doing a good thing," she said. "I think it's such a small thing. They think it's such a big thing. They're very humble."

Tom Mittelstadt, a captain in the Army Reserves, received a couple of hundred cards from Fontana last Christmas. Mittelstadt was stationed in Tikrit, Iraq, where he worked as a lab officer at a combat support hospital.

He kept a few cards for himself and left the rest at the hospital for other troops. The cards were all gone after one day.

"It was hard to be away," said Mittelstadt, 42, of Valrico. "I certainly missed my family at Christmastime.

"When you receive things like that from home, it does let you know that people are thinking about you, and that does make a huge difference."

While in the Army, Fontana deployed twice. She was en route to the Persian Gulf War on Christmas Eve in 1989. Her biggest concern at the time was that her family was too worried about her safety.

Between telephones and the Internet, troops can now communicate with family easier than in past wars. But for some, there's nothing like handwritten mail.

"Today, I know people can e-mail all the time (and communicate through) Skype, so they're in contact with their service members," Fontana said. "But the lost art of a handwritten letter means so much more."

Kevin Smetana can be reached at or (813) 661-2439.

How to help

Join a card party

Christmas Cards for the Troops is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Campo Family YMCA, 3414 Culbreath Road, Valrico.

Child care is available for kids 13 and under.

For information, contact Jeri Fontana at (813) 684-3415 or

How to get troops on the list

Know a deployed service member who could use some holiday cheer? Contact Jeri Fontana at (813) 684-3415 or She'll need a name and address of the service member.

Valrico woman creates blank Christmas cards for deployed troops to send home 10/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 11:35am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Will new laws protect condo owners from apartment conversions and rogue associations?

    Real Estate

    Danny Di Nicolantonio has lived in St. Petersburg's Calais Village Condominums for 33 years. Annoyed at times by the actions, or inaction, of the condo board and property managers, he has complained to the state agency that is supposed to investigate.

    That has left him even more annoyed.

    A bill passed by the Florida Legislature would affect places like The Slade in Tampa's Channelside district, where cCondominium owners have battled a plan to convert homes into apartments.
[Times file photo]
  2. Walmart opens first Pinellas County in-house training academy


    Seminole — It had all the hallmarks of a typical graduation: robe-clad graduates marching in to Pomp and Circumstance, friends and family packed together under a sweltering tent and a lineup of speakers encouraging the graduates to take charge of their future.

    New Walmart Academy graduates are congratulated Thursday morning by associates during a graduation ceremony at the Walmart store, 10237 Bay Pines Boulevard, St. Petersburg. The Walmart location is one of the company's training academies where managers complete a one week retail course. David Shultz and Richard Sheehan, both from St. Petersburg, get high fives from the crowd.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  3. Four questions with Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith before he helps lead the St. Pete Pride parade

    Human Interest

    A decade ago, Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith was afraid to tell his friends and family he was gay.

    Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith will serve as a grand marshal at the St. Pete Pride parade on Saturday. [City of Largo]
  4. Lawsuit: Florida contractor fakes death to dodge angry homeowners

    Human Interest

    SEMINOLE — For weeks, Glenn Holland, 67, crawled out of bed before the sun rose to look for a dead man.

    Last year Glenn and Judith Holland said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  5. What you need to know for Friday, June 23


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Graffiti butts are everywhere in downtown St. Pete. What's going on? [CHRISTOPHER SPATA | Times]