Hollis grandmother busy readying holiday cards for troops

HOLLIS – For Laura Landerman-Garber, generating tens of thousands of holiday cards for American troop members is a labor of love.

“It’s been 17 years,” she said. “It really started out as two days before Thanksgiving. I had gone to the dentist and in the waiting room, I was reading a magazine article that suggested folks write holiday cards to the military while you’re gathering around your holiday tables. And it just really spoke to me.”

Landerman-Garber likens her efforts of writing and gathering cards for U.S. troops as having a love for music or a love for art. This is her passion.

She went looking through her house for leftover holiday cards from the previous season and placed them on her family’s dinner plates at the Thanksgiving table.

“I said ‘ No one is eating until you write card for the military,'” she said. “They all looked at me like perhaps I was still having a toothache.”

Fast forward to 2017, when a friend of Landerman-Garber’s daughter was deployed in the Navy.

“I thought we’d send everyone on his ship a card,” she recalled. “Not knowing that an aircraft carrier has 5,000 people on it. So, I called it a Card Challenge and made it official.”

A Boy Scout member created a Facebook page and Landerman-Garber started calling friends and contacts and the response was an overwhelming yes to her request.

“I called the governor, I called the senators,” she said. “And everybody said yes. And 17,000 cards came in within six weeks on my front steps.”

Landerman-Garber vowed to do it again the next year, this time including all five branches of the military. Fifty-thousand cards later, she knew she was onto something big.

“Mayor Donchess in Nashua literally signed 400 cards himself,” she said. “It was amazing. I went to the Pentagon. I formed a non-profit because sending a ton of mail literally adds up. But it became larger than my family.”

Undaunted, Landerman-Garber forged ahead and last year the cards totaled more than 175,00 handwritten notes.

“They came from all over the country this time,” she shared. “I’m just a grandmother from Hollis, New Hampshire but I caught the attention of the press.”

Landerman-Garber called the media experience “surreal,” as she watched David Muir on ABC news, talking about a grandmother from Hollis, New Hampshire and there I was.”

The CBS morning show followed suit, descending on her house with lights and cameras.

“It was a little insane,” she said. “It’s really fun but the stars of this are the veterans, the service families, the troops, and the card signers. I’m just not shy and very organized. But it really is one of those ‘it takes a village’ moments.”

Landerman-Garber even received one dollar in a card from a woman living in northern New Hampshire.

Boxes of cards arrived at her house by the thousands. Students got involved, generating even more cards for the troops.

“And even the presidential candidates signed cards,” she said.

The event of collecting cards starts each February and by July, Landerman-Garber’s operation is full steam ahead.

“This year there were three things that were very different,” she said. “One was there was a Valentine’s Day challenge for a particular base in Afghanistan, so a Hollis school wrote out two hundred cards.”

There was also a veteran, aged 101, who lived in California who hoped to receive some birthday cards. And he did.

“Maggie Hassan and I asked for help in getting cards to our veteran homes,” Landerman-Garber said. “In Tilton, in Manchester and in White River Junction, so I called it ‘Cards2Connect,’ and we cards are still coming in for that.”

The main holiday card drive begins in July for the upcoming holiday season. Recruitment is Landerman-Garber’s forte.

“Now it’s on Facebook and Instagram,” she said. “It’s out there and the press has been really amazing. It’s still a mix of going through a four-inch binder of people and asking them if they would do it again. But this year, the project has a life of its own.”

The state of Indiana’s department of education is on board, although COVID-19 has been a game-changer.

“I was concerned at first that it might not be able to happen,” Landerman-Garber said. “But it’s happening.”

Some details of the Challenge have changed due to the pandemic but the guidelines are simple: Write a holiday card or a folded piece of paper to create a card. The holiday messages should be diverse, as the troops’ faiths are diverse as well. And cards should be simply signed with a first name, affiliation with a church or group, and the city and state that you live in.

Additionally, there are drop boxes around the state, including ones at Averill House Vineyards in Brookline, Fulchino Vineyards in Hollis and the Congregational Church of Hollis.

“There is a woman in Weare, New Hampshire who is a card crafter,” Landerman-Garber said. “They are these unbelievably gorgeous, three-dimensional cards. She contacted me a month ago and said once the pandemic had started, she just sat down and this was going to be her feel-good, do-good thing. And she actually made 800 cards.”

Landerman-Garber has heard back from many troops members which makes her tremendous efforts worth all the while.

“I think more than ever, with the pandemic and social distancing, that we need to remember to be kind to others and reach out to others,” she said. “They’re far away and their worried about their families. I think I am more determined than ever.”

For more information or to participate in the Card Challenge, email holidaycardsnh@gmail.com.