Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times
Brandi Carpenter took it upon herself this Christmas to make a difference. While others spent their time shopping, decorating and hopping around to various holiday parties, Carpenter started an initiative for the troops who could not make it home for Christmas.
Last week, Brandi along with her friend, Croshay Gilliam, sat in American Legion Post 13 and counted more than 400 letters that she had collected from various community members to send to airmen from Moody Air Force Base who are deployed overseas.
“I thought this would be a wonderful way to get the community involved in supporting something so close to home,” said Carpenter.
It all started in Atlanta.
“There is a radio station in Atlanta that collects letters every year for the men and women in the military,” said Carpenter.
It’s called The Big Thank You which collects letters and sends them for Thanksgiving. Carpenter always participated and felt that with such a large military community in Valdosta, that such a thing for Christmas would really be a small way to extend appreciation.
“I love to try to give back whenever I can,” said Carpenter.
She was motivated to take this idea farther by her co-worker.
“Her husband won’t be home for Christmas,” said Carpenter. “She was really upset, so I pitched the idea and she was excited.”
Carpenter started with a Facebook campaign. She then went to local businesses and had them volunteer to become drop-off locations for the letters.
“We even had a few businesses volunteer and Sound Vision even offered to pay for postage,” said Carpenter.
To Carpenter’s dismay, few letters were collected and some drop-off locations had no letters at all. This heartbreak prompted Gilliam to reach out to her dad, Coy Taylor, who is a teacher at Valdosta High School.
Taylor, a retired chief petty officer, served 22 years with the Navy. He was thrilled to participate. Not only was it a way to extend appreciation to a cause close to his heart, but it was also a way to promote the Valdosta City School system’s initiative “Writing to Win,” which encourages students to write across the curriculum.
“We’re always looking for ways to find motivators for student writing,” said Taylor.
Taylor started with just eight letters from one of his small classes. He was so touched by the outpouring of emotion from those few letters that he sent out emails to the VHS faculty and staff to solicit more letters.
To generate interest, he created a contest.
“It was a way to get the kids to have more interest,” said Taylor.
He personally purchased four Wild Adventure gold passes which he would give to the top best written letters.
Tenth-grader Jayla Smith, twelfth-grader Erica Sharper, ninth-grader Noah Parker and ninth-grader Jada Folsom had the top letters and received the passes.
“They saved my campaign,” Carpenter said of the VHS letters.
Taylor and VHS students helped raise the total letters to about 425.
“We had a few letters trickle in here and there, but nothing like what Mr. Taylor was able to accomplish,” said Carpenter.
For Carpenter, it was important not only as a part of the school’s writing initiative to get these letters written, but to remind the students of their privileges as Americans.
“We wanted to let our kids know that because of our troops, they have the freedom to choose to write or not to write,” said Taylor.
Carpenter will be mailing the letters to deployed Moody troops this week.
“They will arrive just in time for Christmas,” said Carpenter.
There are few groups like this in Valdosta, and Carpenter along with Gilliam and Taylor were just trying to find some way to say thank you.
“I figured we could at least try to make sure the troops from Moody Air Force Base knew that we were still thinking of them over the Christmas season,” said Carpenter. “Tis the season to give.”
Carpenter hopes to keep this initiative going and growing.
“I hope that we can continue and keep growing the amount of letters we receive every year,” said Carpenter.