Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter

The “Thank You For Your Service” Christmas Tree at Washington Crown Center is intended to solicit donations for troops.

Many people decry Halloween candy appearing in stores just after the Fourth of July, and the same goes for Christmas decorations in evidence around Labor Day.

But Rebecca L. Simpson, a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 927 Auxiliary, Washington, has made decorations for a fir tree at Washington Crown Center mall for a good cause, a way to thank troops for their service.

“Shop early so holiday packages can reach our troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other overseas military locations in time for Christmas,” is the message Simpson is conveying by displaying a festooned tree in the mall food court.

Area residents can participate by writing messages of support and donating chewing gum, food, snacks and flavorings, cotton socks, underwear and T-shirts, communications material and items related to personal hygiene and recreation.

At the display, there is a list of what is acceptable for donation. Pork and pork by-products are not allowed to be shipped to most Middle East combat locations. The drive is collecting only nonperishable foods, noting single-serving packages are preferred because the contents of large packages won’t stay fresh after they’re opened and big items are harder to ship. Something that will not spoil or melt and can be stuffed in a pocket is preferable.

Organizers cannot send liquids or glass jars. Plastic fruit cups are not recommended because the seals can open in transit. They prefer single servings in cans.

Messages and donations must be dropped off at the Washington Crown Center mall office no later than Sept. 30. Because of overseas customs and shipping, the VFW auxiliary is asking individuals not to wrap any items. Unsealed, self-addressed notes or cards can be included in case the recipient has time to send a response.

Each package will cost the post $18.45 to mail. Members ask checks for the effort, be made payable to VFW 927 Auxiliary. Checks can be mailed to the post at 106 E. Maiden St., Washington, PA 15301.

Friends and family members of military personnel who are serving overseas during the holidays can mail to the post’s address the name and shipping address of a potential package recipient. The auxiliary asks those who are submitting information to include a local phone number where they can be contacted.

Simpson is the sister of three Vietnam veterans, and, as the wife of a sailor, she lived on a U.S. Navy base during the war.

“I experienced nothing compared with what our troops did, but I realized first-hand how much our military does to keep us a safe and free nation,” she wrote in an email, suggesting families, businesses, offices, schools or other organizations participate.

The Post 927 auxiliary has raised money for years by conducting sales and using the proceeds to send packages to troops at Christmas, but on a much smaller scale.

“I truly believe the public would want to be involved with seeing that our troops receive something from their hometown at Christmas, even if it’s just a thank-you note,” Simpson wrote.

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