Filling boxes with love, reminders of home and wet wipes

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Editor's note: As we enter the holiday season, we're reminded that gift-giving and good deeds happen all year round by so many people in our readership. In an effort to recognize the work that so many do to help others in our region, we'll be highlighting one home-grown organization or group of people a week for the month of December who are giving back to their communities in small ways that add up to big changes.

When Arich Erdeski of Stamford, Vt., graduated from Drury High School in 2011, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and found himself deployed in Afganistan.

His mother, Patty Erdeski, sprang into action, sending him care packages, "one a week," she said in a phone interview. "He and his buddies would be at mail call and his buddies would rib him, saying 'Erdeski has another one!"

Then, Arich had a request. "Ma, don't send them to me, send them to my buddies," he told her, explaining that some members of his company never received packages from home.

Patty mailed her first "Box of Love" on Nov. 8, 2012, to a serviceman in Afghanistan. While she can't remember exactly what was in it, her main priority, then and now, is to send toiletries so the recipients can enjoy a shower and being clean. "It probably had toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo, soap and baby wipes, along with other things."

"It meant so much for Arich's buddies to get a box," she said. "I don't know why they weren't getting boxes from their families. But then, not everybody has a family or maybe the family has financial reasons for not sending it." (Erdeski uses the U.S. Postal Service's flat-rate boxes, which currently cost $17. 35 each — and that's with a $2 discount for the package going to an APO military address.)

"If I can make someone's day, I'm glad I can do it," Erdeski said. "I think to myself, I hope I did something good for you. I had no idea, it would ever come this far ..." she said. As of last Tuesday, a little over five years after sending that first box, Boxes of Love Vermont has mailed 983 boxes.

The serviceman and women — and many times their parents — have shown their appreciation for the boxes over and over. Erdeski recently posted on the Boxes of Love Vermont Facebook page, "My daughter-in-law [Rachel Erdeski, who is married to her other son, John, a first lieutenant in the Army] received this message this morning. 'Ma'am you do not know me, I'm looking for a person named Patricia Erdeski who sends packages to people deployed in Afghanistan. I wanted to thank her and will send her a card, but it's difficult to get mail out. If you know her or are related, maybe you could let her know how grateful we are for the thoughts and gifts.'" Patty explained the serviceman had done a Facebook search for her and found her daughter-in-law, who forwarded the message. "I was pleased he was so pleased," she said.

"I would like to send a special thank you to Patty Petriski [sic] from Vermont. My daughter got her package today, and she also received 7 other cards, God has a special place for all of you."

"Hello! I want to thank you so much for the care packages, they really mean a lot to us. Also, I want to extend a thanks to anyone else who helped put them together and what not, it really made my day. Thank you so so much, it was very helpful. My platoon in deploying in December, so all of that was awesome thank you so much again for thinking of me and us it was a wonderful thing to receive!"

At a packaging session 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Stamford (Vt.) Elementary School, Erdeski and her volunteers will reach — if not exceed the 1,000-box mark. "I have no problem thinking I'll be able to get 27 more boxes out by Christmas. The response has been incredible — and it all came in yesterday," she said, referring to monetary donations and four large boxes of items collected by a local bank.

Two weeks ago, Erdeski and her volunteers packed up 32 boxes and mailed them out. "I was on empty," she said referring to being out of supplies. "Yesterday, we packed another 44 boxes. That's how much I received in donations in the two-week span. The generosity of this community and its people are amazing. Who would think I would pack 76 boxes in a month? I am so appreciative of the generosity."

The donations of items for the Boxes of Love come from "friends, friends of friends, veterans' families who want to see it continue, co-workers. Also, they come from people just hearing about it and on Facebook," Erdeski said, adding Williams College, Williamstown Physical Therapy, Adams Community Bank, Zumba in the Berkshires and Stamford Elementary School are currently helping Boxes of Love to reach its goal, along with countless private individuals.

This past May, The Elvis and Johnny Cash Tribute Show, hosted by the Berkshire County Blue Star Families, raised over $2,000 for Boxes of Love Vermont. "The tribute concert was Will's idea, he and Tomny T do benefit concerts. I met Will because we are members of Berkshire County Blue Star Families. Will sounds like Johnny Cash and Tommy T. portrays Elvis," Erdeski said. "It was a sold-out show and it was a lot of fun."

Erdeski belongs to a Facebook military parents' group where she posts that she is looking for servicemen and women to send boxes to. "I post that I'm looking for names and people request them for their son, daughter, wife, husband ... It's nice when I know the person I'm sending to, but I don't know three-quarters of them."

She is quick to give credit to the many people who volunteer their time to help her. "I never have a shortage of volunteers. We packed the 44 boxes in under an hour the other day. It's amazing how quickly it can all go." She credited Carol Ethier Kipp of Stamford for filling out the U.S. Customs forms and the mailing labels, and Clara Howard of Pownal, Vt., for all her efforts in collecting items.

"I just can't thank people enough. People say, 'You're wonderful' and I say, 'No,no, no.' I can't do it without people. It's tremendous."

You can help

To make monetary donations, send checks, made payable to Patricia Erdeski or the North Adams Post Office, to 82 Autumn Lane, Stamford, Vt. 05352. You can also search Boxes of Love Vermont on Facebook. Anyone interested in donating items to Boxes of Love may drop them off at Stamford Elementary School on Main Road in Stamford or Zumba in the Berkshires, 69 Union St., North Adams.

Margaret Button may be reached at mbutton@berkshireeaglw.com.


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