A crafty way to assist our troops
A GRASSROOTS organisation that is enabling Australian troops to send Christmas, birthday or Mother's Day cards to loved ones back home is all thanks to volunteers like Debbie Collins and Margaret Crawley.
Debbie and Margaret are members of an Emerald Beach craft group that meets once a week to make cards to be sent to defence personnel serving overseas.
It all began several years ago, when Debbie's husband Michael - who serves in the Australian Army - mentioned that hand-made cards were being sent to troops by the family run group - Cards for Australian Troops.
"My husband mentioned they were sending cards to Afghanistan for troops to send home for Christmas so I got my group together and made an extra couple of cards every week to build a box full up," Debbie recalled.
The cards were then sent to Central Coast resident Tracey Ray - the driving force behind Cards for Australian Troops.
It was a group she helped found in 2006 after discovering troops were unable to send cards home to loved ones as the Australian Defence Force considered cards as non-essential items.
"I used to be a state manager for a pharmaceutical company but around 10 years ago I broke my spine in work - there wasn't anything I could do that didn't hurt," Tracey said.
"A friend of mine was getting sick of me being stuck at home in pain all the time and invited me to a card making party."
Tracey admits she became a "bit hooked" with the craft, and began looking for avenues where her work could be sent.
She searched online, becoming inspired by craft groups in America who created and sent cards for troops in the line of duty.
"At that stage there were no Australian groups sending any support to our military," she said.
"I thought 'that's not good enough' and I grabbed a few friends and made 200-odd cards that could be sent."
Tracey contacted the Australian Defence Force, who today provide her the locations cards can be sent.
Each year Tracey and her family today sort through more than 10,000 cards made by volunteers from across Australia.
Each card includes the name of the volunteer who made it - often resulting in calls of thanks from the families of defence personnel who receive them.
"We send cards for Christmas and Mother's Day mainly because they're serving in countries where there's nowhere to buy them," Tracey said.
"Everybody says to me 'why do you do this' and I'm just happy to know they've got something from home. It's a privilege."
Margaret said it was rewarding to know the cards were bringing joy to people who are serving their country.
"I think this is something we can give back to say thank-you and show the respect these people they deserve for putting their lives on the line," she said.
"Yes, it's a career to them, but its so important to us at home and to the families."
The volunteer work was praised by the national commander for Australian forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, rear admiral Trevor Jones last Christmas.
He described it as: "a wonderful group of people who out of their own time and resources produce cards of greeting for the personnel... to use as part of their own messaging back home to loved ones."
For more information visit the Cards for Australian Troops Facebook page.