HOLLIS – “Dear Warrior, I can play outside with my friends because you are brave. I can eat dinner with my family because you are courageous. And I can sleep safely in my bed at night because you are my hero.”
A child penned that powerful message in a holiday card that flowed in among the thousands of others during this year’s Holiday Cards 4 Our Military-NH Challenge that Laura Landerman-Garber began just a few years ago. Her nonprofit, aimed at spreading holiday cheer to deployed U.S. military troops, has expanded in its third year, topping more than 100,000 holiday cards written and decorated by children, teachers, adults and veterans across the country – and even a few from Canada.
“It just speaks to what I really hoped would happen with all of this,” Landerman-Garber said on Wednesday afternoon. “It’s like a gift to a stranger, and 100,000-plus people across the United States, starting here in New Hampshire, have done just that.”
Writing out cards to those serving overseas during the holidays became a tradition in her family 16 years ago at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Later, in 2017, she took this tradition to another level when a family friend was deployed, calling it a challenge. That first year, she set the goal of collecting 5,000 cards, but ended up with about 17,000.
In 2018, a World War II veteran asked her if she was doing the challenge again. She was up for the challenge, and set a new goal of collecting 25,000 cards, so that 5,000 could be sent to members of each branch. She ended up receiving somewhere around 50,000 cards.
This year, she has collected more than 100,000 cards, but said every single one of them counts. However, because of the overwhelming support she received from states far beyond New Hampshire, such as Alaska, she had to enlist her neighbors to help sort through them all.
“It is incredibly humbling still, and inspiring that people all over the country – and it started here with the big hearts of the Granite Staters,” Landerman-Garber said. “All over the country, folks are reaching out, even though these are complex times, even though they’re divisive times, they are reaching inside themselves and finding kindness to spread some holiday cheer to our deployed troops.”
Something new this year is that New Hampshire Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut not only challenged students in Granite State schools, but he directed an email to every single commissioner of education in every state, asking them to join in the challenge.
This resulted in 34 states reaching out to send cards, as well as some coming in from Canada.
Additionally, she has been venturing to various political gatherings to collect cards from as many presidential candidates as she can among both parties. She believes she has the majority of presidential candidates participating in the challenge. She got former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and others to sign cards this year.
Additionally, she was recently on The View discussing New Hampshire and the challenge she created.
“Whoopi Goldberg told me I was funny – my life is made,” Landerman-Garber said.
This year, cards will be sent to five aircraft carriers, four bases and 10 Coast Guard, domestically deployed addresses. She also said there are some New Hampshire National Guard members in Texas right now that are about to go overseas, and she has the addresses for them, as well.
On Saturday, she plans to send out most of the cards, except those destined for the Coast Guard, at the Post Office in Hollis.
“They’re all ready for me,” Landerman-Garber said. “They’re opening up early; they have extra trucks; they’re very excited.
Adam Urquhart may be contacted at 594-1206, or at email@example.com.