The HUGS Project of Elkhart

$25,000 will fund a lot of local HUGS

January 4, 2011

$25,000 will fund a lot of local HUGS
THE GOSHEN NEWS The Goshen News Tue Jan 04, 2011, 09:00 AM EST


There’s a lot of HUG-ging going on in Elkhart County.

And thanks to a $25,000 grant from Pepsi Refresh, more HUGS will be making their way to U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East.

Voting to qualify for a $25,000 Pepsi Refresh Grant ended Dec. 31, leaving the Elkhart County chapter of the HUGS Project at No. 5. Organizations in the top 10 become a finalist and win $25,000.

Carole West of the HUGS Project of Elkhart County said being named a $25,000 recipient won’t be official until Jan. 23 after all the paperwork is done, but at this point the local chapter is a finalist.

"We’ve had so much community support," West said, adding that there should be a "huge thank-you to the community and to River Oaks (Community Church), friends and family and God ultimately."

The Elkhart County Indiana HUGS Project members first applied in July, but were not accepted into the contest until October. Voting then started in November and continued through Dec. 31.

"It’s a submission process that’s really crazy," West said. She explained that Pepsi takes the top 1,000 submissions in a new month. Submissions open at midnight and by 12:01 they are closed.

The HUGS group did align themselves with other groups to increase voting. Some groups who approached them were turned down because of other groups they were supporting, she said.

But "it was the day-to-day support of the local HUGS groups and friends and family" that made the difference, West said.

E-mails came every day from founder Nancy Mast encouraging people to vote.

The pastor at River Oaks, which was not affiliated with the group other than giving them space to operate, even texted from the pulpit, West said. And volunteers encouraged people to vote during halftime at basketball games and they visited Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, the mall, stores, restaurants — "We’ve been everywhere."

"It’s been a wild ride," she said. "We did it in two months."

"It got the job done," she said. "God got us through. He came through big time for us — and for the troops."

HUGS are cooling ties that reduce body temperatures of soldiers serving in the Middle East by more than 5 degrees. According to HUGS officials, these ties can save lives in the 125-plus degree temperatures of the Middle East.

About 40 local volunteers, ages 13 to 81, donate 2,000-plus hours a year to make and ship these cooling ties. They also purchase, collect, box and ship care package items to troops.

According to the information the group sent to Pepsi Refresh, "We send care packages monthly to troops in remote locations with nonexistent or undersupplied stores to purchase basic needs. Typical care packages include cooling ties, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, razors, shaving gel, baby wipes, beef jerky, dried fruit, powdered drink mixes, etc.

"In the cold winter months we include handmade wool hats, fingerless gloves and neck warmers. Handcrafted board games and survival bracelets have recently been added. Until now, we have relied totally on donations. However the requests now far exceed donations."

So how will the $25,000 be used?

Labor is donated and the work space is donated by River Oaks.

So all of the funds will be spent in support of soldiers.

Of that $25,000, $7,500 will be used for shipping cost for 600 care packages; $4,700 will be used to purchase materials to make HUGS; and $12,800 will be used to purchase care package items. "Every penny spent has to be very well documented," she said.

"Ultimately it’s for the troops, for the men and women in uniform," West said. "It’s the least we can do for those who put their lives on the line for us everyday."