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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Troops in Afghanistan and Iraq get a regular care package containing greetings from Hillsville with love.


The return address is "From Our Hearts."

A senior activities group, crafters known as the Papershakers, at the Carroll Wellness Center becomes a miniature greeting card factory when they meet in the aerobics room every month.

The group, facilitated by Stampin' Up! crafting demonstrator Karen "Kavi" Coulson, started out making cards with their own hands for their personal use.

But it's become a hallmark of the Papershakers to show their support for military personnel overseas by helping the troops keep in contact with their loved ones back home.

The women in the group put their stamp on the holidays and all special observances, even a Christmas gift card holder and a grocery pad.

Last Friday, women in knots of three or four gathered around tables with scrapbooking materials, prepared to help the soldiers celebrate Mother's Day and Easter by tearing, cutting, pasting, punching and rubber stamping with many colors — the end results are stacks of professional-looking cards with blank insides that the "From Our Hearts" organization in Jefferson City, Mo., will ship to the armed services members in foreign lands.

The finishing touch goes on the back, where the Papershakers from Hillsville sign their first names.

Crafters have to work well ahead. After they put the completed cards in the mail, they have to cross the ocean twice in order to get to the soldiers in enough time for them to send the cards back to the states in time for the particular holidays they observe.

The soldiers have no store just down the street where they can pick out a Valentine's or Christmas message, but what the Papershakers manufacture in their "assembly line" gives them a good selection to choose from.

Each crafter got assigned a different responsibility for the Valentines they made in December. By the time the assembly line wrapped up, they had produced 360 cards — a record.

It takes groups like the one at the Carroll Wellness Center busy to keep the From Our Hearts supply lines to the soldiers open.

"What started as a Three-Star Blue Star Mom sending a handful of her handcrafted cards to her son serving his sixth tour of duty in Iraq, now has grown into a not-for-profit 501c3 known as From Our Hearts, that services tens of thousands of our service personnel protecting our freedom," said a message from founder Martie Shea. "From Our Hearts sends boxes of quality handcrafted cards [each individually sealed in a clear protective envelope to remain clean] to our service men and women serving on foreign soil so that they, too, have the ability to send birthday cards to their children, anniversary cards to their spouse or a card to tell them how much they miss them whenever they have the opportunity."

From Our Hearts has points of contacts with several chaplains in the military to distribute the cards to the soldiers.

"You will never know how much you are appreciated here in Iraq," one chaplain wrote the organization, expressing the gratitude that many felt. "We consider you to be an American hero."

"We call them paper gifts," said Coulson, while working with the class on Jan. 15.

What they do helps make life away from home more bearable.

"Three hundred cards hit 300 soldiers' lives, and that hits 300 of their families' lives — but this hits our lives, too," she said. "We benefit from it."

It makes the crafters happy to hear, for example, that a soldier from Virginia used one of their cards when he realized it came from Hillsville. It was nice to know, Coulson heard, that someone in Virginia had the soldiers on their minds.

While they boost the morale in the military with their work, the Papershakers might not even think about how it helps lessen their arthritis symptoms, improves dexterity, gets their hands in motion — a goal that the Carroll Wellness Center's Kathy Ward had in mind when she started it, Coulson said.

"For me, it's even better because I'm helping these ladies," she said. "I love this group. This is my contribution to the community — to give people something to do."

Crafter Audry Hendrick believes the military personnel need all the moral support and all the morale boosts they can get, and that's one reason she likes to participate.

There's also the socialization of visiting and eating lunch with the other women.

"I just love doing things like this, crafts," she said as she cut out a delicate paper flower. "We meet once a month and I just look forward to it."

It's nice to be able to touch the soldiers' lives as they fight for our country, Hendrick said.

Though they live hundreds of miles apart, Coulson and Shea both belong to Late Night Stampers and that's how they got in touch with each other. Coulson marvels that Shea could find the time and energy to start From Our Hearts while also being a mother and working a full-time job.

(They have visited in person when Shea stopped by to visit family in North Carolina over the holidays.)

Besides working with the Papershakers, Coulson has offered her support to From Our Hearts by designing card projects for the other volunteers to construct.

"It's all volunteer," she noted. "Nobody is paid anything on this."

Coulson hopes others will get involved by helping the organization pay for its materials and postage.

"Each box contains approximately 250 cards and costs $11.95 a piece to mail one box to each of the chaplains every month," Shea wrote. "And one box is not enough, judging from the feedback we receive. The boxes, we are told, empty within an hour."

• For more information  about the Papershakers, call Coulson at (276) 728-3523 or Kathy Ward at 728-2500. For more information about From Our Hearts, visit www.fromourhearts.info.