A Santa for soldiers

Dolly Lengyel of Personal Pampering, a hair and beauty salon, cuts the hair of Meredith Timmons-Cowell of Bethany among piles of gifts and supplies going to troops for the holidays in Naugatuck Monday. Lengyel collects and ships the item to soldiers fighting overseas. –RA ARCHIVE

At a quick glance, Dolly Lengyel’s downtown Naugatuck beauty salon looks a bit like a place she has either just moved into or is in the process of moving out of.

Big cardboard boxes are piled and tucked everywhere, in corners, underneath a long counter, in closets and a back storeroom. Some are sealed, others open.

Those piled under the counter are filled with brightly wrapped gift boxes. The brown shipping boxes are addressed to a military outpost in Muqor, Afghanistan β€” a particularly dangerous spot in a dangerous war.

Lengyel has run a Christmas troop support effort for more than a dozen years, starting with the first Gulf War. She has built a grassroots network of donors and volunteers. Most of her donations go to Iraq or Afghanistan but she has sent packages to bases worldwide.

“They really appreciate someone cares about them,” Lengyel said. “There’s a lot of guys out there alone. They have no one else to send them something.”

Lengyel is a good example of how most troop-support efforts grow from one caring individual to involve a community. Local churches, businesses, schools, customers and friends help out. She has developed her own pipeline of addresses to distribute gifts to soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen overseas.

Lengyel collects donations of non-perishable treats, cards and other small gifts at her shop, Personal Pampering, at 170 Church St. in Naugatuck.

What Lengyel could most use at the moment is donations of socks, deodorant, shaving cream and foot powder, along with money to help cover the cost shipping and buying extra gifts. Lengyel started collecting and fundraising in September, but was surprised by another 164 names from a military recruiter on Friday. She estimates she’ll need another $900.

She needs to send out her Christmas boxes by Monday.

Lengyel can be reached at her shop at (203) 729 3328 between 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Lengyel’s drive is one of many options for people looking to help the troops this holiday season.

Naugatuck resident Jim Miele is seeking donations to send care packages to military personnel serving overseas during the holidays.

He is seeking 50 dozen cookies as well as foot powder, shaving cream, deodorant, and socks. For more information or to donate, contact Miele at (203) 723-9833.

In Prospect, the American Legion Post 194 and VFW Post 8075 have teamed up to support Connecticut soldiers who have been deployed to Afghanistan.

The posts are seeking donations to put together care packages for deployed troops. The items sought include powdered drink mixes, regular ground coffee, fruit snacks, gum, DVD movies, pre-paid phone cards, hand sanitizers, alcohol wipes, baby wipes, dental floss, Q-Tips, tooth paste, tooth brushes, sanitary supplies for female soldiers.

All items will be accepted at the VFW Post 8075, 218 Cheshire Road, daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. throughout the month of December. The packages will be shipped out in early January.

For more information, call Robert Moraniec at (203) 758-4733.

In Beacon Falls, American Legion Post 25 is seeking the names and addresses of Beacon Falls residents currently serving in the armed forces during this holiday season.

The names and addresses of military personnel can be mailed to American Legion, P.O. Box 104, Beacon Falls, CT 06403, Attn. Frank Correnty.

The Oakville VFW ladies’ auxiliary has run a troop support drive for about a decade. It’s too late to help with the Christmas drive β€” 150 boxes have already shipped β€” but the post sends support shipments every month.

Anybody eager to help can drop off donations of nonperishable food items, sanitary goods (no strong scents), games or even letters of support (unsealed) at the post for the next shipment.

“We don’t know these people, but we want to touch somebody’s life,” said Brenda DeFederico of the auxiliary.

The post will also accept donations to help with shipping costs. The effort costs about $7,000 yearly, including purchase of goods and shipping, according to Rich DeFederico, of the VFW.

The post has an annual fundraiser of selling shirts and sweatshirts with patriotic themes. This year’s is “United We Stand,” with the image of an eagle. Members sell T-shirts at community events, tag sales, concerts and wherever they see an opportunity.

Donations can be brought to VFW Post 7330, at 85 Davis St. in Oakville between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

The Connecticut National Guard runs a variety of relief programs for deployed service members, including gift collections for their families. The deadline is Monday.

“This year we have 700 soldiers and airmen deployed during the holidays,” said Connecticut National Guard spokesman Col. John Whitford. “It’s a very difficult time. We try to lessen that stress, especially taking care of children during Christmas and New Year’s.”

Unwrapped toys can be dropped off at National Guard facilities on weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. That includes the Waterbury Armory, at 64 Field St. in Waterbury.

Donations are needed by Dec. 10, Whitford said, for the holiday party on Dec. 15.

The guard is also collecting gift cards for families of the deployed. Cards from local groceries, department stores, gas stations and pharmacies are recommended. These can be brought to the Waterbury Armory or mailed to the William A. O’Neill Armory, Connecticut National Guard, Office of Family Programs, Suite 103, 360 Broad St., Hartford 06105-3795.

The United Service Organization (USO) has a feature allowing people to buy gifts for servicemen and women online by credit card. It’s called the USO Wish Book. Gifts can be purchased in honor of another person, and the USO national organization will send a card of thanks to that person.

Available gifts range from a $15 package of comfort foods for deployed service members to a $6,000 bicycle customized for wounded veterans.

“They are away from their families all year long, but around the holidays it’s especially hard,” said USO spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel. “So it’s good for them to get cards and packages so they know America thanks them, supports them and we’re thinking of them.”

This USO Christmas Wish Book is available at the USO’s web-site at www.uso.org

Veterans in various stages of life and some of the nation’s most grievously wounded soldiers pass through Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. It’s a popular spot for well-wishers during the holidays.

James Bonola, gift coordinator for the hospital, said cards and letters of support are a great gesture. Also greatly needed are gift cards in any amount. These are useful for soldiers or their families. Non-perishable snacks are also greatly appreciated.

The base has 700 people in its “warrior transition battalion,” which includes people recovering from everything from broken bones to amputations. At the moment, the hospital is averaging under 20 inpatients.

Gifts, cards and donations can be sent to: Gift Coordinator, 3551 Roger Brooke Drive, Fort Sam Houston, Texas 78234. For information, call (210) 916-5638 or e-mail bamcgifts@amedd.army.mil.