An idea once planted grows exponentially

  • Published
  • By Mary Lou Gorny
  • Hilltop Times Editor
As the need has expanded, so has Linda Larsen's outlook as she continues her efforts with Operation Adopt a Ghost. The nonprofit enterprise started when her son told her some National Guard Soldiers weren't getting any mail and began with just four names and has expanded over time to nearly 2,000 military personnel overseas. "Pounds and pounds and pounds of stuff, boxes and boxes and boxes," she said in summing up efforts.

"It's the ripple effect," Larsen said. Adopt a Ghost's beginnings at Hill Air Force Base itself has spread from a small effort in Building 1236 with one lunchtime event to many others' efforts across the base and off-base, and the Adopt a Ghost nonprofit entity is now currently supporting 1,000 military personnel.

Not only that -- efforts have now evolved to larger projects such as Soldier Santa, Warm Hearts for Valentine's Day, and an annual big push for the end-of-the-year holidays as they work to supply first shirts and chaplains with supplies for active duty overseas.

She recently told a Salt Lake newspaper reporter who honored her for her efforts, "This is one of the most faith-building things I have ever done in my life."

Every time somebody has a request or a need -- anything, she said she responds with, "OK, we'll do that." Then she approaches it with a "I hope this works" kind of prayer in her heart and somehow it works. She said, "It's like magic."

"What I thought was going to be a short-term, while my son's deployed kind of thing with 180 people has turned into over time to probably close to 2,000 different soldiers that we've sent things," she said.

They've shipped gym shoes, DVDs, toiletries, screens, and even peanut butter and rat traps.

They've sent coffeemakers and water heaters for individual cups of tea, and razors -- lots and lots of razors. "I've gotten more e-mail over razors," she said, as she described what a gift a triple blade razor can be for some of the deployed personnel.

Larsen described conditions for military personnel stationed at different sites and how efforts went into fulfilling those needs. But she doesn't do it alone.

This woman, quick to laugh, and hard working, is loath to take all the praise.

She described the groups of people who've pitched in.

"We had a family that saw us on Facebook and the mother called in and said, 'Can I bring my four kids over? Can we help you gift wrap for Christmas because we don't have money but could we help you with that?" Larsen recalled.

She's had companies pitch in, whole teams take names to adopt Soldiers and Marines and Air Force and anyone with Utah ties.

She's had groups drive as far as from Herriman, Utah, just to come divvy up toiletries, write letters and donate goodies for deployed military women. That support involved a group of Liberty Girls, 6- to 8-year-olds, who were thrilled to be assembling toiletry bags for women soldiers.

"For the girls, they can't just go to the BX and get their hair ties and bobby pins," said Larsen. "If it's not in there you don't get it."

This year the organization took on four or five military families for Christmas -- with the help of some large families who stepped forward and even a group from Building 1218 who among other things mail ordered a pair of size 15 shoes for a teen who needed them in the family selected.

For Valentine's Day this year, Adopt a Ghost is planning on sending hand-warmers, fleece blankets, hot chocolate mixes, gloves, warm socks and valentines.

"It's cold over there right now," she said.

Larsen has seen how quickly people donate once they understand what Adopt a Ghost is all about as she enters the mail site, makes small talk or others ask her about her T-shirt or the sign on her car.

"Here's twenty bucks," someone will say as she enters the post office. Or volunteer to sew up Christmas print bags and then not only donate them but fill them first.

She's had matching funds given, and opportunities where what she's shipped has been given to others by the original recipients. Larsen described efforts by a group of aerial porters who passed around Kool Pops and Otter Pops on the tarmac when the heat was unbearable -- "paying it forward," she said.

"Sometimes it's over 130 degrees outside," Larsen added.

"It's so amazing. I mean we're probably never going to have enough money to feel like we can do whatever we want but at the same time the little shoestring is getting to be a fatter shoestring," she said.

"We need everything all the time," she said when asked if there was anything in particular the group needed currently. As for when she'll stop?

"I'll quit when they come home," Larsen said. "It's like that."