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home : news : news Thursday, November 23, 2017

11/11/2017 Email this articlePrint this article 
Air Force unit overseas to enjoy local Halloween sweet treats

By Kate Howes
Staff writer

Heidi Woodford of DeWitt didn't figure it would amount to too much when she offered to take leftover Halloween candy off people's hands to send to her son, Bryant, and the rest of his Air Force unit overseas.

One box, maybe two.

Woodford never imagined she would be shipping 10 boxes - each one weighing between 11 and 14 pounds - packed full of goodies.

And that was just the first batch.

"The response was overwhelming," the 42-year-old said with a smile. "I just can't believe it. The generosity people have shown ... it's amazing."

What's also amazing is to think that it started with a deal 3-year-old Lena Lancaster of DeWitt had made with Bryant.

Woodford runs an in-home daycare. Since Bryant, a 2016 Central DeWitt graduate, left home to serve his country, he checks in with his family on a daily basis.

That includes visiting with Woodford's "nuggets," which is what she lovingly calls the children in her care.

The day before Halloween, 19-year-old Bryant, who was deployed in August to an undisclosed location after having been stationed in Italy, visited with his mom via Facetime.

Lancaster joined in the conversation, and told Bryant she planned to go trick-or-treating dressed as a princess.

He jokingly asked whether he could have her Halloween candy - a question to which Lancaster quickly replied with a definite, "No."

She did, however, offer to share one piece.

Soon, the other "nuggets" followed suit.

"Each one asked if they could give Bryant a piece of their candy," Woodford related.

Group effort

Woodford realized that if Bryant was craving Halloween treats, other members of his unit probably were, too.

A friend of Woodford's had already asked whether she wanted whatever was left of her Halloween candy to give to her daycare children.

While Woodford doesn't like to give her little ones sugar, it did give her an idea.

"It dawned on me, the holidays are coming," she said. "And I thought, everyone thinks about Thanksgiving and Christmas, but what about Halloween? There are moms and dads who are deployed, and not able to be with their kids. And lots of people like Halloween and being able to enjoy all the candy. So, I thought, I'll send some to Bryant and his unit, and we'll see where this goes."

Woodford spread the word on Facebook, letting friends and family know what she had in mind.

The reaction was more than Woodford could ever have anticipated.

"People from DeWitt, Clinton, Davenport, Bettendorf, Long Grove, and Eldridge all reached out," she said. "I couldn't believe it."

More than candy

And the donations didn't just stop at candy.

People gave money to help with shipping costs, which Woodford had always intended to pay herself.

Two dental offices even caught wind of Woodford's plan and - perhaps out of obligation to offset the effects candy has on tooth enamel - donated toothbrushes, toothpaste, and dental floss.

When Woodford told Bryant about how far everything had evolved, he couldn't believe it.

"He asked if I was serious," she said with a smile. "He said it will be so great and amazing for everyone in his unit."

Given the sheer number of care packages Woodford is sending, the treats can, in fact, be enjoyed by several units.

Bryant contacted his Master Chief, who will help him to distribute the boxes to different units in the area.

The first shipment was mailed Monday, and Woodford said if all went according to plan, more boxes would be shipped out next week.

Holidays coming

And she's not stopping there.

Woodford will soon start work on organizing Christmas care packages, which will be mailed out the week after Thanksgiving.

She will post suggestions for donations on social media. A Girl Scout troop from Eldridge has already offered to donate small Christmas trees, each of which will be decorated with a different theme.

"I just want the troops to have packages they can open on Christmas," Woodford said. "So they can feel like they're at home."

So many posts from so many people offering to donate items for the care packages ... it was enough to bring Woodford to tears.

She is thankful to her friend, Mary Sandry of DeWitt, for helping to get the first round of boxes in the mail, and to everyone else who helped to make it possible.

"I feel truly blessed," Woodford said. "It makes me smile. What [the troops] do and have given up for us ... nothing compares to it. I'm overjoyed I can help. This is just something small we can do for them, but it's amazing how something so small can mean so much."

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