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Saturday, Mar 28, 2015

Charity golf tournament backs ‘Gifts From Home’

BY KIM DAME Hernando Today correspondent

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When 50 National Guardsman met for a deployment ceremony at the Army Aviation Support Facility in the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport last month, Linda Kidwell watched with a heavy heart. For years she has filled care boxes, sending them to war zones for soldiers like those who were being honored.

Some of those boxes had been sent to several of the 50 at the ceremony on previous deployments, some as long ago as five years.

The ceremony grounded her commitment further.

“These soldiers were from my own neighborhood,” she said.

Five years ago, Linda and her husband Larry, a disabled Vietnam veteran, founded Gifts From Home, a nonprofit organization that packs and ships care packages to deployed soldiers.

Thousands of soldiers have received their gifts on a monthly basis. And many still communicate with the couple even after they returned to civilian life.

Ernest Chainey, now medically retired and living in Texas after serving three tours in Iraq, communicates with the Kidwells on a regular basis. The gifts were a welcomed distraction, he said.

“They made me feel good, especially on a bad day,” he added.

And that is exactly the purpose behind the organization that still packs and ships boxes each month to soldiers in the war zones.

But Gifts From Home is struggling to keep its doors open. It depends almost entirely on donations from the community to keep the packages filled and mailed each month.

It can be touch and go at times, Linda Kidwell said. Collecting enough items for the care packages isn’t the problem. But mailing each box, at a cost of more than $13, has depleted the organization’s funds. Many times Linda must dig into her own pocket to make sure the boxes go out.

Through the years, Gifts From Home has tried creative fundraising events to raise money and awareness to their cause. But times are particularly tough for the charity, especially during this time of year when the generosity of the holiday season has begun to wear off.

On the suggestion of Dale Hoaglan, who works at the post office where the Kidwells mail the packages, Linda and Larry decided to organize a charity golf tournament scheduled for April 14 at the Rivard Golf Club located at 18001 Rivard Blvd. in Brooksville.

“We needed something big,” Linda said. With a team of about 13 regular volunteers and roughly two months to pull it together, Gifts From Home is anticipating an event that will not only help the organization continue its cause but will be remembered as one of the best golf tournaments in the area.

“I want people to walk away from this saying ‘That was the best tournament I’ve ever played for,’” Linda said.

The event is open to individuals at $35 and teams of four for $140. The day includes a round of golf on the beautiful Rivard’s regulation-size, 18-hole golf course. Prizes will be awarded for the best team, closest-to-the-pin and longest drive.

Lunch is included, prepared by RL BBQ, and will be served at the VFW Post 8681, located at 18940 Drayton St. in Brooksville.

There will be raffle items, a 50/50 drawing and a community yard sale. A Humvee also will be on display, ready to be filled with donations for the troops.

All the proceeds from the event will support Gifts From Home’s monthly gift boxes to the troops.

“I take no pay from the organization,” Linda said. “So everything we raise is used for the troops.”

Gifts from Home began with a goal in 2007 to mail 50 gift boxes for Christmas. She ended up sending 239. And she continued to mail out at least 100 boxes each month since.

Each box, Linda said, has a personal letter included.

“I write about Jacque, my poodle, wild and crazy happenings around our home, etc. I try and get on a personal level with these guys,” she said.

The Charity Golf Tournament is the result of a team of volunteers that worked tirelessly to put it all together.

“Such dedication and hard work is much appreciated,” Linda said. “We are all excited about everything coming together the way it has. We have all worked so hard.”

Volunteers for the Charity Golf Tournament include Dale Hoaglan, Barbara Henshaw, Barbara Potter, Linda Hayward, James Brown, Irene & Richard Leatherow, Pat Johnson, Toni Hermanek, Jackie Jackson, Karen Macchione, Mike and Barbara Currin, Bob Dubois and June Burgess, among others.

Golfers are encouraged to register their spot by Wednesday and can call either Gift From Home at (352) 684-4185 or Rivard Golf Course at (352) 796-1410.

Registration can be done in person at Rivard Golf Club. All checks should be made payable to Gifts From Home.

With support from the community, Gifts From Home can continue its efforts that provide more than trinkets to the American soldiers. They provide hope.

“I do not want our troops to feel forgotten and abandoned,” Linda said.

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