Mission complete: Letters From Home program to retire

ST. MARYS – After nine years of supporting U.S. servicemen and women by sending care packages all over the world, the Letters From Home program is retiring on Sunday, April 22 following its 35th and final campaign."By all means, the military has told us our mission is complete. We've had a wonderful, wonderful ride, made a difference, met a lot of nice people and couldn't be more proud," said Christine Jovenitti, LFH founder and director who established the program in May 2003 when her son's unit was deployed to Iraq. Registration for the final letter-stuffing party, entitled "Shower Them with Thanks," will begin at 12:30 p.m., with package assembly from 1-2 p.m. and the retirement ceremony from 2-3 p.m., with a social to follow. All activities will be held inside the Sacred Heart Parish Center's gymnasium rather than the cafeteria due to renovations. The ceremony will consist of the performance of the national anthem by the Singing Dutchmen; the presentation of colors by local servicemen from the Pennsylvania National Guard's Charlie Company, based out of Bradford; a performance by the St. Marys Area Middle School Jazz Band under the direction of Ed Schwer; and guest appearances by Congressman Glenn Thompson and his wife, City of St. Marys Mayor Sally Geyer and Johnsonburg Mayor Dave Zilkofski.Jovenitti noted the PA National Guard Commander agreed to release six local servicemen for the ceremony, as they are currently training at Ft. Indiantown Gap. The event is open to the public; however, reservations are appreciated in order to plan for the social. Those planning to attend should contact Jovenitti at 335-5579."The Iraq War is basically over at this point, and when Chris started this program that was the mission she had," said Barb Duffy, LFH treasurer and Jovenitti's sister.Each year, LFH hosts three letter-stuffing parties during April, July and November. To date, they have sent 661,044 cards and letters of support to touch the lives of 72,626 military all over the world on active duty.Each box contains enough care packages for a unit of 25 military personnel. In addition, individual boxes are sent to soldiers whose names and addresses are submitted to the organization. One soldier may receive both an individual box and a bag from a unit box. Letters From Home is a certified organization through the U.S. Department of Defense's America Supports You Network. They operate at 93 percent efficiency, meaning 93 cents of every $1 donated goes directly back to the program. The organization is based out of the Sacred Heart Parish Center, located on Center Street in St. Marys.Pick up a copy of the Thursday, April 12, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.