Eva Smathers and her son, Sebastian, know how much it means to military personnel serving overseas to receive a note or care package from home.
Michael Smathers served a number of years in the U.S. Army as a turbine engine mechanic, spending tours of duty away from his family, including a stint in the Gulf War.
Eva would send her husband care packages filled with baked goods and other cherished items that he would often share with his fellow soldiers. It always brought a smile to their faces, Michael said, and helped chase away some of the loneliness they felt, especially during the holidays.
Years later it was Sebastian, 15 at the time, who came up with the idea to expand on the notes and care packages sent to his father. Christmas Wishes to Our Heroes Overseas was born. Now in its sixth year, the Smathers, working with Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary Post 1443 in Clarkston, will spend this Saturday and next packaging donated items and writing personal notes to be sent to hundreds of military personnel serving overseas.
Craig Clohessy: Tell us a little bit about the program. I believe you said it started in 2013.
Eva Smathers: Correct. We started in a really small group. It was an idea of my son after my husband came back from being deployed overseas. (Working through the website) anysoldier.com, we got all the information we needed ó the safety requirements and everything to send the boxes out. ... The first year we were able to serve 340 soldiers. ... Last year we were able to serve 880 soldiers. The year before was more successful. ... We served 2,020 soldiers. We had a really good run that year.
CC: You are working now with the VFW Auxiliary.
ES: Correct, Post 1443 in Clarkston.
CC: What are some of the items you need donated for the care packages?
ES: ... Hygiene products, the little toothbrushes, you know, the one-time toothbrushes for their pockets; nutrition snacks ... are really important ó proteins, nuts. We canít take anything homemade out of security reasons, itís not safe. ... I know the older folks really like to bake something, thatís how I started, too (but the military now wonít allow those items to be delivered). ... What is really important is baby wipes because you know, itís really dusty, so they can just wipe off quick.
CC: You accept donations throughout the year, is that correct?
ES: Yes, items can be dropped off at the VFW Hall in Clarkston (829 15th St., or P.O. Box 241, Clarkston, WA 99403).
CC: And of course youíre always looking for monetary donations as well.
ES: Thatís really important because with the financial donation we can take care of things they really need, that theyíre asking for. And for the postage, that really eats up a lot (of the money donated). Then we could send more stuff and we could send bigger boxes and we could give them more, like blankets and stuff. (Cash donations can be made directly to the account Christmas Wishes to Our Heroes at Potlatch No. 1 Federal Credit Union.)
CC: Your son came up with the idea originally for the program. Tell us a little bit about him.
ES: Sebastian, he has just a big heart. If he has something in his heart he really works and tries to help with it. He has neurofibromatosis (a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form on nerve tissue). ... Heís got a lot of people who love him and theyíre on his side and have helped to get that program going for him. ...
CC: This Saturday and next you are looking for volunteers to: A) bring some donations if they have them, and B) also come ready to work to get the care packages put together.
ES: Yeah, and to write some cards ó a couple nice words for our soldiers. We really make sure that every soldier also gets one Christmas card. ... Everybody writes what comes from their heart, and I think thatís really important, too.
Clohessy is managing editor of the Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2251.
Occupation: Water art instructor, personal trainer.
Family: Married, two sons, one grandchild.
Education: 2017-current, National Academy for Sports Medicine, Chandler, Ariz., corrective exercise specialist; 2008-17, Water Art Fitness International Inc., Toronto, Canada, certified as a Water Art instructor and various other certifications; 2005-09, Penn Foster Schools, Scranton, Pa., fitness and nutrition diploma, child psychology, physical therapy aid diploma; 2002-05, Deutscher Sportbund Pfalz, Kaiserslautern, Germany, health development, gymnastics, childrenís gymnastics, posture/movement.
Work history: Asotin County Family Aquatic Center, September 2008 to current, Water Art instructor; Cancer Resource Network volunteer, 2006-13, resources and financial aid assistance, St. Joseph Regional Medical Center; 2nd Judicial District CASA, 2009-10, guardian ad litem, volunteer; Fingerprints Childrenís Center, 2008-09, part-time teacher assistant; rehabilitation, 2007-08, St. Joseph Regional Medical Center; Verbandsgemeindeverwaltung Wallhalben, 2000-05, administration employee, Wallhalben, Germany; TTC Hettenhausen, 2004-05, physical fitness, Hettenhausen, Germany; Franz von Sickingen Schule, 2004-05, health education, Wallhalben, Germany; VfL Wallhalben e.V, 2000-04, early health fitness, Wallhalben, Germany; Deutsche Bundespost, 1993-2000, postal/bank, Darmstadt/Dieburg, Germany; Schade und Fuellgrabe, 1990-93, management, Dieburg, Germany; Schade und Fuellgrabe, 1988-90, sales specialist, Dieburg, Germany; Schade und Fuellgrabe, 1986-88, sales assistant, Dieburg, Germany.
Hobbies/Interests: Family, fitness, pets, nature, cooking, reading, motor sports.
Do you have any hidden talents?: ďIím writing a book about my dad, to tell the true story about Sinti and Roma: Their accepting and suffering after they got released from the concentration camps and sent into the Nazi working camps.Ē