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Montevideo group serving America's deployed troops, one place setting at a time

MONTEVIDEO - Jean Hoidal and her friends in Montevideo are serving our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, one place setting at a time. Hoidal and Montevideo area volunteers are shipping boxes packed with everything from hand-knit head caps and playing cards to U.S. troops they've adopted through "Operation Minnesota Nice.''

The packages have generated lots of thank you notes from the recipients, but Hoidal said nothing matches the response they've gotten when plain old, everyday silverware is included. "They love it,'' said Hoidal, known best to her friends as "Grandma Jean.'' It's prompted Hoidal and others to begin collecting -- and sending -- place settings of knives, forks and spoons to our troops overseas. She calls it: "Silverware for Soldiers.''

"I like to do this kind of stuff,'' Hoidal said. "This is really fun.''

And apparently, it's really appreciated. "The utensils were awesome,'' wrote one soldier to Hoidal. "Silverware is huge here. It's so hard to get things to eat with.''

Hoidal has learned that most of the troops are provided plastic utensils with their meals. There is usually enough to go around, but soldiers don't really like the plastic knives, spoons and forks, Hoidal said. The soldiers prefer solid, metal silverware.

Hoidal and friend Marge Donahue don't take any credit for discovering this need. They were just looking to help out U.S. soldiers and learned about Operation Minnesota Nice.

Started in early 2004 by Denise Jorgensen of Ramsey, the organization has been creating chapters throughout the state. Each chapter collects goods for U.S. troops, usually packaged snacks, hygiene and personal care items. They send the goods to soldiers they "adopt'' in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At an organizational event Hoidal and Donahue attended, Jorgensen had mentioned how much the silverware is appreciated by troops. The two Montevideo women discovered that used silverware is not hard to collect: Their friends have been more than happy to empty out old drawers in their kitchens for the cause.

Of course, it's not just silverware that the troops appreciate. The volunteers pack their boxes with a long list of desired items, and then some. David Buchanan, who is among those helping the Montevideo chapter, said he learned via e-mail that his adopted soldier misses some of his favorite television programs from home. Buchanan is now putting together a collection of CDs with copied television programs.

The adopted soldiers are referred through Operation Minnesota Nice and come from all over the country.

The Co-op Credit Union in Montevideo is assisting the local group by helping pay for the postage. It is also using its office locations in Montevideo, Canby, Benson and at Cub Foods in Willmar as collection points for items people might want to donate for troops.

Buchanan said lots of people have made this project a fun one. He pointed to his uncle, who went out and bought 50-pound sacks of sugar and flour and has been baking cookies like mad ever since.

Hoidal said they plan to support the troops for as long as they are stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. There's no doubt that she enjoys doing this, but she would like to see it end too. "I hope it's not very long because that will mean the war is over,'' she said.

For more information, contact Hoidal at 320-269-9538 or or visit the Operation Minnesota Nice Web site at: