Montana Speicherweimer was working at the Kokomo Chrysler plant in 2006 when someone permanently altered her life by asking one question. It wasn't ``Will you marry me?'' or ``Have you found Jesus?'' or ``How do you feel about the pay cuts?''
``You are always helping people, so you might know how to do this,'' a co-worker said. ``My nephew is serving in Iraq. Can you help me send care packages to him?''
Seven years later, Speicherweimer and the group she co-founded, Hoosiers Helping Heroes, have sent more than 10,000 care packages to Indiana men and women serving in the U.S. armed forces. A few weeks ago, they packed more than 40 and sent them out in time for Christmas.
``We started out small, but the need has consumed my life,'' Speicherweimer said. ``I cannot think of a better path to be on. I had a high-paying job, but this pays in the heart. My mother said God had other plans for me, and giving is so much better.''
Each month, a group of up to 15 people gathers in Speicherweimer's LaFontaine three-car garage to stock care packages. The boxes to Indiana service members stationed in hot spots such as Afghanistan. The packages contain an estimated $60 worth of materials such as flip-flops, candy, beef jerky, underwear, socks and drink packets, and they cost $12.95 to mail.
``It's amazing how much they fit in those boxes,'' Komets forward Kaleigh Schrock said after a 2012 visit to HHH headquarters. ``They have it down to a science to jam pack them full. It was cool.''
Some of those materials come from Komets Kare Package, which starts before Friday and Sunday's home games and concludes on New Year's Eve. Co-sponsored by The News-Sentinel, the Komets, WANE and the Federal Express Shipping Center at 3620 Independence Dr., the program has helped Komets fans donate more than 160 barrels of goods during the first seven years.
``I think everybody deep down wants to do something, but they don't know what to do,'' said Speicherweimer, a former Indiana National Guard reserve member. ``This service works great for that. When we get a letter from a soldier saying we made a difference in his life, that is our payday. I get on the phone and I call everybody.''
It's amazing how many letters they receive. A recent thank you included a letter from a soldier who got a picture of an Indianapolis Colts cheerleader in his package. ``You won't believe what a Slim Jim and a picture of the Colts cheerleaders does for the morale around here,'' he wrote.
Before sending out the packages, Speicherweimer, 55, and others drive around the state to pick up donations from schools, churches, drug stores and grocery stores. It's not uncommon for her to pick up 70 pounds of jelly beans, 770 pounds of bubble gum, 3,300 drink packets and 2,000 letters in a single day.
``We're always in need of jerky, nuts and puzzle books,'' she said. ``If you have an old cellphone, bring it in because we can turn that in to the Military Order of the Purple Heart and they turn them into cellphones for soldiers, and we get calling cards for it. If you can't afford anything, just write a letter of support to them. Sometimes those make the most difference.''
Family members can sign up their loved ones for the care packages at Hoosiershelpingheroes.org. Hoosiers Helping Heroes also has a Facebook page and will have representatives at the games during Komets Kare Package.
``It was definitely a cool experience,'' Schrock said. ``Now I understand how important it is and how much impact it has to have the buckets at the coliseum. The more support she gets, the more she can ship out to the soldiers.
``She showed us pictures of some of the soldiers who had sent them in after they received their packages. They looked like us after we won a championship. You don't realize how hard they have it over there and how something so small can make such a big difference.''
The seventh year of Komets Kare Package will be held Friday, Sunday and Tuesday. The program is sponsored by The News-Sentinel, the Komets, Federal Express and WANE Ch. 15.
Here's a list of needed items from the folks at Hoosiers Helping Heroes who process our donations and send them to the troops: jerky, breath mints, gum, men's and women's deodorant, snack bars, small bags of nuts, feminine hygiene items, nail clippers, potato chips, plastic jars of peanut butter, hard candy, candy bars, packs of cookies, baby wipes, black socks, razors, shampoo, flip-flops of all sizes, body wash, chess and checker sets, protein bars, trail mix, chicken or tuna salad snack packs, sunflower seeds, puzzle books, travel-insulated coffee mugs, drink and sports drink sleeves. Items can be dropped off at the games or at the Federal Express Shipping Center, 3620 Independence Dr., during business hours.