SPRING HILL — Residents wanting to send good wishes to the troops overseas can do so at a forthcoming Gifts from Home fundraiser — and they might win a trip to the Florida Keys, too.
It will be the second annual major drive to stoke the coffers of Gifts from Home, the Hernando County grass roots effort that already has sent more than 1,810 boxes of goodies to military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. This year's drive will feature a raffle for a "Key West Basket," a three-day, two-night stay in a motel on Duval Street.
The fundraiser on Saturday at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10209 on Edward R. Noll Boulevard will include a dinner at 6:30 p.m., with several raffles and an auction.
Highlighting the auction are an autographed driving suit donated by former NASCAR driver Richard Petty, an autographed picture of retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and an autographed photograph of Jamie Farr, who played Maxwell Klinger in the TV series M*A*S*H.
Gifts from Home operates year round, but the fundraiser is a major booster, said founder Linda Kidwell.
Of particular help have been Walgreens, with all of the local drugstores urging customers to purchase and donate to the charity a particular item each week, Kidwell said.
"So far, I have 8,564 bags of M&M's, 1,680 Oreo Brownies (packages), shampoo, lotions, hair conditioners, shower gel, and the list goes on," Kidwell said. "I had to have a yard sale to make room for the donations.
"I keep praying for a place to be able to store the donations and to pack the boxes so we will be able to have more community involvement."
Kidwell's troop support differs somewhat from other efforts in the area. While various groups send cookies, hygiene items and messages, Gifts from Home's boxes include some frivolities: clown noses, water balloons in camouflage colors, bottles of blowing bubbles, Santa Claus hats, reindeer ears.
"It's a little bit of home," Kidwell explained, "to get their mind off the war — quirky little things as well as what's needed."
And the effort reaches beyond the troops to orphaned children in Iraq and Afghanistan, with boxes of school supplies such as pencils, tablets and flash cards, Kidwell said.
Those attending the fundraiser are urged to bring an item that can be sent to the troops or children. Advance tickets for the pork roast dinner, raffle and auction are $16.50 and are available at the VFW and at Pristine Liquors at Barclay Crossing. About half of the proceeds will go to Gifts from Home.
Kidwell's effort has been fueled by her concern for her husband, Larry, a Vietnam veteran who continues to suffer from posttraumatic stress syndrome.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.