Think Christmas in July

Think Christmas in July


Even as the temperatures hover in the 90s, Chris Ashworth is already focused on ensuring a happy winter holiday for military families.

Soldiers stationed in Afghanistan don't get a chance to drive to the nearest store and pick out an appropriate Christmas gift for loved ones.

But Lynn's and Daphne's Hallmark shops in Cary and Apex are collecting money to send recordable holiday books to soldiers, let them record their voices and get the books back to families stateside before the holidays.

In the first campaign last year, the stores raised more than $18,000 - enough for 624 books.

But the October fundraising drive was too close to Christmas for the books to get overseas and back. This year, a mid-summer start will allow time for soldiers far away from their families to participate. Ashworth hopes people will donate throughout the month of July to help soldiers prepare for the holidays.

Q: How did you get the idea to raise money for soldiers to send families the gift of their voices?

A: Our effort is local, not national. We heard about another chain of Hallmark stores in the Midwest that started the Storybook campaign, and we picked up on what they were doing. We thought it was a great idea.

Q: How much do you hope to raise this year?

A: We hope to get $20,000, which would purchase about 1,000 books at $19.95 each. The stores will pay the sales tax and shipping expenses, and everyone making a donation of any amount will receive a 20 percent off coupon for their next store visit.

Q: Did you get any positive response from last year's book donation?

A: I got an email from the wife of a soldier. We had donated books to the (United Service Organization) and Fort Lee in Virginia. One of the Marines who shipped out in January had been at a book donation party in December, and his wife thanked our stores for thinking of their family. I also got a nice thank you note from the commander at Fort Lee.

We decided to donate the books to Fort Lee last year because we have a Hallmark store about five miles away from the fort. We wanted to support them.

Q: How personal is this effort for you?

A: When I was in high school, I went to military school for two years. I had wanted to be a soldier my entire childhood - what little boy didn't? Attending the school gave me even more respect for soldiers.

My mother's father was a lieutenant in the Navy during World War II, and his ship blew up. He was rescued at sea. I have a cousin who was a Harrier pilot, and he was killed in 2001 when his jet crashed.

Q: The stores that are participating are not especially close to any major military base. What has the response been like from customers?

A: It really depends on the store. One manager at Crabtree approached a customer to ask if she wanted to donate, and the woman said her husband is overseas. She donated 10 cards. At our Chapel Hill store, we sometimes have customers who question the effort. But we are quick to stress that we are not supporting the war. We are trying to help families.

Q: How would a troop pullout affect the campaign?

A: I don't foresee anything stopping us from doing Storybooks for Soldiers. The soldiers might not be on the front lines, but whether they are in Afghanistan or Iraq or Italy or Japan, they are still away from their families. And these people did not choose to leave their families - they chose to serve their country.

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