The children of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Forest Park teamed up with local retiree Betty Schultz and the Adopt a Platoon program earlier this month to assemble care packages for soldiers stationed overseas.

Schultz has been collecting donations for nearly 18 years, since the first Gulf War in the early 1990s, when her niece was sent to Turkey. Each year the church’s Sunday school mission project aims to provide similar services to people and organizations in need. In the past couple years the project has put together school supplies for area foster children, and for children living on Indian reservations.

When mission coordinator Susan Kindler saw an article on Schultz’s donation program in the church’s monthly newsletter, she contacted Schultz immediately.

“The kids were really excited,” Kindler said. “I could tell that the project made a big impact on them, putting the whole thing together.”

Once a Sunday school teacher herself, Schultz was happy to have the extra help. Lately she has been sending out as many as five boxes filled with supplies each week, she said. With the help of about 25 children from the church, 10 additional boxes were prepared to be shipped directly to Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of the collected items included toiletries, snack items, pens, stationary and playing cards for the soldiers. They also collected stuffed animals and school supplies for the local children.

“My favorite part of the day was watching the children write letters to the soldiers,” Kindler said.

Last year Schultz received a certificate of appreciation from military leaders in Afghanistan. A 2007 story in the Forest Park Review about her commendation helped boost local interest, as well, she said.

“[The donation drive] all started from my own house,” Schultz said. “No one knew about it at first. Then more and more people got involved.”

That’s when Schultz contacted the Adopt a Platoon organization. Their mission statement, according to their Web site, is “to provide a better deployment quality of life, lift morale, and assist military families.” Through Adopt a Platoon, Schultz received news of soldiers who needed certain items that simply weren’t available to them abroad.

For Schultz, knowing that the donations are helping the men and women in the military makes it all worthwhile.

“It’s all very rewarding, knowing I’m making a contribution,” Schultz said.