It started with a simple tweet from a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Twitter account asking for holiday greetings, but personnel say the response and support from residents across the country have been extraordinary.
“When we see the bins, we are kind of (like), ‘Oh my God,’ but every single letter that we look at, we say, ‘Yeah, that’s somebody else that thought about us,'” Cpl. Nicolas Lefrancois, who is assigned to the Canadian Forces postal unit at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Trenton, told Global News on Thursday.
“It’s nice to see that the Canadian people have knowledge of what we do and what we are sacrificing.”
Lefrancois is part of a small but mighty crew that has been responding to an increase in correspondence and packages for the approximately 2,100 soldiers deployed on 28 overseas missions. It’s estimated they have processed around 15,000 cards and letters over the past week.
Last week, the Twitter account for the CAF in the United States made a friendly request.
“Many of us will spend the holidays with our families. Many of us will not,” the message said before sharing the CAF mailing address.
“It would mean a lot if you did.”
Global News subsequently spoke with CAF personnel about what it means for active service members to receive cards and letters from Canadians, especially those who are deployed in combat zones.
“It’s just nice when people are thinking about you … for a lot of these people, it’s their first tours away,” Sgt. Michael Hemmingsen, a postmaster assigned to Operation Impact — the international coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria — previously said.
“It’s so easy to just call someone, text or Facetime — it’s the press of a button … To take a card, there’s a little leg work.”
In the days following its publication, Global News’ story on the CAF appeal was shared on thousands of Facebook accounts. Many pledged to send cards for the upcoming holiday season, including schools.
Capt. Denice Zoretich, who is in charge of the unit, said that on Wednesday alone, they processed 3,155 cards addressed to “any Canadian Armed Forces member.” She said cards from schools and children are especially touching.
“It is absolutely adorable when schools send us photos or when kids send us photos, and it’s just a nice reminder that all ages are supporting us. It makes the office a lot cheerier,” Zoretich said.
Angela Little, a Grade 4 teacher at Loch Lomond School in Saint John, N.B., is one of the teachers in Canada whose classes are writing cards.
“We talk a lot about kindness and doing nice things for others and what others do for other people, and it just seems something natural to do for my students,” she told Global News.
On Thursday morning, in a cavernous facility at Canada’s largest airbase in Trenton, Ont., sorters began going through the bins of correspondence dropped off by Canada Post at around 7:30 a.m. The small team needs to sort and box the thousands of cards, letters and parcels — and quickly.
“Everything we do is on a tight schedule … no matter how much we receive, we still have to be ready by two o’clock,” Lefrancois said, noting the unit takes its role seriously as a morale booster for fellow personnel.
He noted that all cards sent to “any Canadian Armed Forces member” are dispensed proportionally by the number of members assigned to each operation. Latvia currently has the most number of CAF members of all the 28 operations. The smallest operation has a handful of personnel.
Lefrancois reiterated how cards and parcels are still welcomed, even in a 2019 world where text messages and emails often dominate written forms of communication.
“It also often comes with other goods … unfortunately, peanut butter is something you can’t send through email,” he joked.
“It’s a little touch of home in your tent … it’s something you’ve really got to feel.”
Capt. Katerina Brooks, a diplomatic administration officer with the operational support hub in southwest Asia, echoed Lefrancois’ sentiments.
“Getting the notification from the postie that I have mail to pick up never ceases to make me smile. Getting mail means that somebody is thinking of me and I have that proof to hold,” she said in a written statement.
“Sometimes it’s so busy here and there is so much stress, but getting mail helps me take a pause and think about how lucky I am to have friends and family who care about me.”
For those who want to send a card or a letter, CAF guidelines require cards to be sent with a stamp if it’s going to “any Canadian Armed Forces member.” The item being mailed can’t contain anything other than correspondence.
In order for letters and cards to be received by CAF members overseas by Christmas, the correspondence must be at CFB Trenton before Dec. 9.
Here is the address provided by the CAF to send a card or a letter to military personnel:
Any Canadian Armed Forces Member
P.O. Box 5004 Stn. Forces
Click here for a full list of overseas operations if you’re looking to send correspondence to a military member assigned to a particular operation.