Operation Write Home connects troops, families

Federal Way nonprofit got its start as a ‘meant-to-be-accident’

Staff writerJanuary 30, 2013 

Sandy Allnock’s golden retriever Sierra greets daily deliveries to her Federal Way home with a wagging tail and a head just itching to be scratched. The dog sees so many mail carriers that she treats them like familiar friends.

Letters and packages arrive in buckets at Allnock’s house because it’s the hub of Operation Write Home, a nonprofit she launched six years ago to help deployed service members stay in touch with loved ones.

Her efforts enable an average of 1,500 troops a day to write home on intricately crafted cards that Allnock and a network of volunteers send to forward bases and aircraft carriers all over the world.

“They just love them. They love being able to write home on something beautiful,” said Allnock, 39.

This month, Operation Write Home delivered its 2 millionth card since the group was formed in 2007. It was a milestone Allnock could not have imagined when she started sending her extra handmade cards to a nurse at a military hospital in Iraq.

“It’s been amazing to watch this grow,” she said.

Operation Write Home now fills a niche in the bounty of candy-packed care packages service members receive from friends and family in the states. It’s also different from the modern communication tools soldiers take to the battlefield, such as Skype and email.

Allnock’s boxes give troops something special to send home so their loved ones know they’re not forgotten. They carry messages such as “thinking of you” or “Happy Mother’s Day,” but with a personal touch.

“I thought it was important that they could hold something I held,” said Maj. Johnpaul Arnold, a public affairs officer from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s I Corps. He sent Operation Write Home cards to his wife and children while he was deployed to Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2011-12.

“These cards will last,” said Arnold, 40. “My children and their children can go back and read them, and understand a different side of these two wars that I’ve been a part of, and that they’ve been a part of.”

Allnock, a graphic designer for the Christian organization World Vision, discovered a need for a group like hers after hearing a radio interview with a craft hobbyist who sent about 1,000 handmade cards to deployed soldiers.

Allnock had a similar stash of unsent cards she created for special occasions, and she thought she could find a group that would forward them to overseas service members.

Back then, Allnock concedes, she didn’t spend much time thinking about the wars or the military. She just wanted to put her hobby to good use and clear out her extra cards.

She could not find an organization that would connect her with soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, so she created her own.

“It was an accident, but it was a meant-to-be accident,” she said.

After Allnock posted a message online looking for help, her first bite came from a nurse stationed at a combat hospital in Baghdad who volunteered to distribute the cards. Now, Operation Write Home sends packages with hand-made cards to 120 units across all service branches.

Allnock knows the cards are popular because of the stream of thank-you messages she receives. Her sitting room features six framed flags that flew over forward bases, and a pack of framed certificates signed by officers and senior enlisted soldiers.

These days, the nonprofit consumes about 60 hours a week for Allnock. Much of that time focuses on raising money, finding sponsors, sorting cards from thousands of hobbyists and assembling packages for deployed troops.

Each box gets a few pictures of her golden retriever.

She also makes time to create at least one of her own cards every day.

“I don’t mind putting in this many hours because I think of what they do, and how hard they work,” she said. “Compared to them, I have nothing to complain about.”

Allnock also considers herself a teacher for other hobbyists. She hosts a regular online show from her home in which she demonstrates how to make different card designs. She invites guests to “Stump Sandy” by challenging her with seemingly unmatchable materials. Most episodes generate more than 1,000 views.

She recognizes that the war in Afghanistan is ending, but she also sees a role for Operation Write Home in years to come. Bahrain, Djibouti and South Korea are among the current destinations for her packages.

“At some point, there’s going to be another big event, and we’ll ramp up,” she said. “For now, we’re just staying steady and strong until they all come home.”

Links to the organization

On the Web:

http://operationwritehome.org/

On Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/opwritehome

On Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/user/colourfulvideo

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 adam.ashton@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/military

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