By Kyle LoJacono
LUTZ — The Lutz Patriots have a strange problem by their standards.
“We have enough money for postage to send over packages to the troops for the holidays, but we don’t have enough materials to fill the boxes,” said member Bruce Hockensmith. “It goes back-and-forth, but we usually have it the other way around. But this time we need donations of materials so we can make the holidays a little nicer for our troops.”
Like all the men in the Lutz Patriots, Hockensmith is a U.S. military veteran. He is a retired Army sergeant who served from 1965 to 1968 in Germany, and his older brother, George, was in Navy.
The patriots have enough postage money thanks to the Oct. 3 charity car show that was arranged by Shawn Tyson of Tyson Printing and Graphics in Lutz. The Patriots received more than $1,000 in postage to send gifts to U.S. troops.
“We plan to have a backing party on Nov. 14 to send everything we have collected so that the boxes make it to the troops by the holidays, but we need the community, which has always stepped up and helped us in the past, to help us fill the boxes,” Hockensmith said. “I remember serving has a very young man and how much it meant to me just get a letter from home.
“We have troops in places most haven’t heard of doing the hardest things in the world to keep us safe. What they are doing is something I feel has to be done, so we can at least help them be a little more comfortable.”
The women of the group are just as dedicated to supporting the troops.
“We do little things to help those brave soldiers know we care,” said Barbara Mueller, of Lutz, who founded the group. “That’s why we started the patriots. We wanted to show troops we cared by sending what we can and to show the community we care for the troops with our actions.”
Mueller started the Lutz Patriots in March 2003 after the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The patriots have members from across northern Hillsborough and southern Pasco.
Besides sending packages to the troops, the patriots meet every Friday night to wave U.S. flags in front of the Old Lutz Schoolhouse on US 41 from 4 to 6 p.m.
Mueller is more connected with the armed forces than most. Her son, Matt, served for five years in the Marine Corps, reaching the rank of first lieutenant. He is currently a reservist living in South Korea.
Mueller’s husband, Bud, served in the Navy, and her father, Bob Elrod of northern Hillsborough, served in World War II. Bob’s cousin Henry “Tank” Elrod was a marine pilot who was given a Medal of Honor, and his story is featured in the History Channel movie “Wake Island: Alamo of the Pacific.”
The Patriots receive e-mails and letters regularly from troops thanking them for their donations, many with pictures included.
“Seeing pictures and reading letters from the troops lets us know that the soldiers are getting the gifts we send,” said member Judy McCray. “It’s always a thrill to see those letters.”
“They are over there serving this county, and as long as they are doing that, I want to help them,” Hockensmith said. “Sending holiday gifts is a little thing, but I know from experience how much those little things mean when you are serving overseas.”
Items needed by the Lutz Patriots for U.S. troops’ care packages
FOOD: beef jerky, crackers, hard candy, gum, granola and protein bars, nuts, chips, coffee, Crystal Light packets, power bars, Slim Jim’s, Oreo cookies, fruit snacks, nondairy coffee creamer, microwave popcorn, Little Debbi’s snack cakes
HYGIENE: deodorant, lip balm, razors, eye drops, body and foot powder, hand wipes, hand warmer, white athletic socks, wash cloths, dental care products, body lotion, sunblock, shampoo and conditioner, nail files, Q-tips, cotton balls, combs and brushes, bug spray
OTHER: board games, batteries, stationery, DVDs, CDs, CD players, fly swatters, puzzle books, crocs and flip flops, athletic balls and equipment, letters and cards from local people, bandanas, paper and pens, sewing kits, comic and joke books, magazines, small flashlights, disposable cameras and Frisbees