Excitement grows as card No. 1 million approaches

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor columnist

Published: 10-04-2023 10:58 AM

Sometime before Christmas – the brains behind this operation can’t be sure of the exact date – a major milestone will be reached.

In what began as a family affair at the Thanksgiving table 20 years ago has grown into an altruistic endeavor, a simple task that means so much to so many.

Laura Landerman-Garber, a clinical psychologist from Hollis, had the perfect therapy to raise the spirits of those who served in the military: homemade holiday cards with happy drawings on the cover and a happy message inside.

And, six years since she launched her idea, card No. 1,000,000 will be in the mail, destined for someone in the armed forces who may not be home for the holidays.

“In 14 years, before it became official, I sent about 5,000 cards,” Landerman-Garber said. “I’d give cards to neighbors and their families and they’d send them back to me and I would send them out, to Fort Bragg and other places as time went on. It seemed like an easy thing to do.”

It was, at the beginning. She set the ground rules in 2003 when her kids were young. Sept. 11 was still fresh. She told her children to make their own cards, to be delivered later. She called it Ticket for Turkey.

“I wanted to teach them lessons in gratitude and community service,” Landerman-Garber said. “No one was eating unless they did the cards.”

Fourteen years later, in 2017, she officially began spreading the word because her daughter had a friend in the military. He deployed on the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Landerman-Garber wanted to go above and beyond. Why not send cards to the crew as well as the family friend?

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Landerman-Garber had no idea the aircraft carrier had a crew of nearly 5,000.

“I thought it was just a boat,” she said.

That was the start. All the sailors got a card. She secured a drop-off box at a local pharmacy and gave out her address. Her mailbox was regularly stuffed. She collected 17,000 cards that first year, and the numbers have risen each year since, except for the start of COVID in 2020. Landerman-Garber topped out at 238,000 cards last year. She’s mailed 845,000 in six years, and has another 35,000 packed and ready to go. That’s 880,000.

Along the way, a World War II veteran suggested that she include all branches of the military, including the Space Force and Coast Guard. That, he told her, was the right way to do it.

“I am in tears and made him a promise,” she said.

Landerman-Garber turned her operation into a nonprofit in 2018. Later, some television heavyweights from talk shows and news shows – David Muir, Kelly Ripa, Ryan Seacrest, Gayle King – came calling, anxious to interview the woman from New Hampshire who began her program innocently enough around the family’s Thanksgiving table.

She pounded the pavement, asking businesses and individuals and nonprofits to contribute cards, money and a little time.

She got the Granite State’s Congressional delegation on board, going so far as to visit Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in Washington, D.C. to help promote the cause.

She took a trip to Israel and handed out cards to members of the U.S. Embassy. The United Way has drop boxes. So does Sal’s Pizza, owned by Brian Waters.

“She brings in a decorated big box,” Waters said. “It fills up quickly, so I reach to get more. Teachers come in with cards from all their students.”

Her home is headquarters, where most of the packaging takes place. Before COVID, she’d serve children milk and cookies, adults wine and cheese. Now school representatives and others stop by and grab boxes and cards.

Landerman-Garber said her house is jammed with boxes. In her living room, her kitchen, her basement. There are 10 cards to a bundle, 100 bundles per box. The oldest contributor this year was 98. Landerman-Garber has late nights, sometimes packing boxes until 3 a.m.

She has an army of volunteers, hundreds of them, people from businesses, faith groups, scouts and the United Way, as well as community members.

“There is one New Hampshire woman that proofread 30,000 cards just herself,” Landerman-Garber said. “Today she picked up more to do and returned 2,000 that were done and ready to go.”

They also proofread each card, making sure the content is appropriate.

No political statements, and nothing about danger or dying. Cards with smiling suns and flowers and gratitude and happy thoughts only.

“We read them so we’re not triggering anything,” she said. “Nothing political, nothing for or against the president. Some of the adults are more blunt than the kids. If there’s something damaging in a political way, I take them out. If a card says, ‘My uncle was blown to pieces,’ I take them out.”

She has the data since 2017. She’ll know when a box of 1,000 reaches the 1 million mark. She’s not sure how to mark the occasion.

“I’ll be counting in my head,” Landerman-Garber said. “As it gets closer I’ll be excited. Maybe I’ll close my eyes and pluck from a bundle. The card could be a 6-year-old from a Concord school. It could be an adult from Pittsfield or Pembroke. We’ll know soon.”

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