- A mound of boxes full of things like canned goods, toiletries, and clothing stunned LeRoy Eades when he walked into Peoples State Bank in Rhinelander on Monday morning.
"It blew my mind out," Eades said, with a smile.
Eades, his wife Shirley, and Cheryl Zastrow came to Anderson Street branch to pick up donations for their Rhinelander Military Support Group.
"I would have to say, it's probably one of our largest [collections ever]," Eades said.
Eades helped his friend Ray Zastrow turn what was once a process of shipping shoe boxes to troops serving overseas in 2001 into a full-scale operation of sending thousands of care packages via priority mail. Eades is now carrying on with the program after Zastrow's death in early September. Eades never served in the military, but he says that never bothered Zastrow.
"I guess it's mainly because I couldn't make the service," Eades said of why he helps with the group. "It was my way of showing that, to help the soldiers."
Peoples State Bank has helped the support group financially in the past, but Commercial Lending Vice President and U.S. Army veteran Craig Lau knew receiving care packages from the support group, like he did in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, make a big difference to soldiers.
"They were a gift from God," Lau said.
Between four Northwoods branches and five Wausau-area locations, Peoples collected 7,300 personal care, food, and other items and nearly $600 dollars for the group through employee, customer, and community donations. The drive lasted one month.
"I don't really know if we knew what we were going to get," Lau said. "I thought we would have a fractional amount of what we got."
Eades plans to ship the donations to Wisconsin soldiers stationed in Kuwait. He estimates it will cost about $1,000 to mail.
"Now my job begins," Eades said.
Eades will also send the items to soldiers from across the U.S. if he can't find enough service members from Wisconsin. It's a simple "hello" from a bank back home that Lau knows will show soldiers we're invested in their well being.
"You're away from your family [when you're serving overseas]," Lau said. "[It's great to have] people thinking of you and people that don't even know you are contributing to the troops... I think this is absolutely incredible."
Eades is always looking for more donations. If you'd like to help out the military support group, call Eades at either 715-360-0433 or 715-362-2746.