Signed with Love, Erin - Tallahassee woman makes, sends cards overseas to soldiersDec 01, 2022 04:14PM ● By Ashley Hunter
“In 2009, our former pastor went to serve in Afghanistan.”
So begins a story of service and support for those who serve - a story that would result in over 10 years of cardmaking, and hundreds - thousands - of cards being mailed overseas to soldiers in service to the United States government.
In 2009, the then-pastor of Erin Keeling’s church served as a chaplain in Afghanistan for the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army.
Keeling, who had served as a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps. in high school, says she had always wanted to join the Army National Guard - but was unable to due to health issues.
Her pastor encouraged her to write cards to the men in his unit, and Keeling took up the mantle of anonymous writer for the soldiers in the 101st Airborne.
“I wrote cards and sent them as care packages for him to hand out to his unit,” said Keeling.
Keeling continued making and sending thank-you and well-wishing cards to the unit until her pastor returned stateside in 2011 and presented Keeling with a folded, preserved flag that had flown alongside the 101st Airborne while they served in the middle east.
With her pastor back in the United States, Keeling could have laid down the pen and crafting stickers, but her mission of card writing was just beginning.
“I’ve always wanted to serve,” explained Keeling. “I wanted to find ways to keep sending cards to soldiers.”
Keeling turned to the internet, and discovered A Million Thanks, a non-profit organization that works with volunteers around the country to make and send letters to American soldiers all around the world.
Founded in 2004, A Million Thanks was launched by a teenager in California with the goal of sending one million thank-you cards to members of the military.
“They deliver cards to soldiers and service personnel that are deployed or soon to be deployed,” adds Keeling.
The mission of the organization has been met, many times over, and continues to send cards and notes of thanks to the men and women serving in the military.
In 2011, after the return of her pastor, Keeling joined the ranks of writers and card makers who partner with A Million Thanks.
“Ever since then, I have been writing cards and sending them to soldiers.”
Keeling makes cards throughout the year, and tries to send one large box of cards (signed with just her first name) to A Million Thanks, who then distribute the cards to American servicemen and servicewomen.
Once a year, Keeling buys a shipping box from the post office, which can hold roughly 1,500 cards, and she mails them off.
The average card that Keeling makes is made out of construction paper, decorated with stickers, and includes little thank-you or encouraging messages
Keeling is the primary creator of the cards, but she’s set up booths at festivals around Tallahassee to encourage others to make a card that she will include with her annual card bundle to A Million Thanks.
This year, she had a booth set up at the pumpkin patch of the Tallahassee Heights Methodist Church on the corner of Mahan and Capital Circle and had people stopping in while picking up their festive pumpkins to sign a card.
Since starting her military card mission, Keeling has since expanded her reach: she now makes cards for veterans and distributes them on Veterans Day and Christmas at local Veteran Affairs offices, and is now working to distribute cards to all local first responder agencies.
Keeling has been working (between creating her veteran and service member cards) to create and deliver cards to local fire departments, police departments, and sheriff’s offices.
While she hasn’t received any response from service members (due to the anonymity requirements), Keeling says she has heard back from a firefighter who received one of her first responder cards.
“He told me how much it meant to him, to be recognized,” said Keeling. “It made me feel good, knowing that I was able to make someone’s day because it makes my day, getting to do this.”
Keeling says that knowing that she is able to reach around the world or within her own community and brighten the life of others is what keeps her inspired in her card-making project.
Each card that she makes by hand, Keeling says she thinks of the person it will go to - and hopes that the personal touches on each card brings a bit of happiness to its recipient.
“It’s been a good thing for me to do and I’m happy to do it,” said Keeling. “I don’t think they get thanked enough, and they do a lot for us; everyday they put their lives on the line.”
Keeling says she has no plans to slow down in her card making endeavors.
She’s already assembled 200 cards for sheriff’s deputies, and is aiming to start making cards for state troopers.
“I hope to keep doing this for years to come,” Keeling concludes.