Sixteen years and several hundred thousand holiday cards ago, Laura Landerman-Garber, a current Hollis, New Hampshire, resident who left Forest Hills nearly 32 years ago, was sitting in her dentist’s office perusing a magazine. Thanksgiving was approaching, and as Landerman-Garber waited to be seen, she read an article about American traditions. In the piece the author described a familiar practice of seasonal gathering, and encouraged readers to make time to write cards to troops.
“It spoke to me,” said Landerman-Garber, so after arriving home, the mother (and now grandmother) informed her family that the “ticket to turkey” was attained through composition.
More than a decade passed and Landerman-Garber’s family continued to write. Along the way, neighbors and friends joined the exercise. Collectively, the group sent cards to the Wounded Warrior Project, New Hampshire Veterans Home and the Naval Hospital.
In 2017, the project took on additional meaning after a family friend was deployed. Landerman-Garber decided to send cards to his ship, unaware that nearly 5,000 people occupied the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a Navy aircraft carrier.
“It didn’t stop me,” said Landerman-Garber. “I’m a grandmother and we grandmothers don’t mess.”
She reached out to members of her Hillsborough County community asking for help. After contacting Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and congregations of different faiths, she called her governor and senators. Word quickly spread and Landerman-Garber received nearly three times her request. A total of 17,000 cards arrived at her house, and through the aid of politicians, she sent every well wish abroad to the soldiers.
Shortly thereafter, the project grew again, she explained.
Landerman-Garber was attending a spaghetti dinner in the basement of a local church and met a World War II veteran.
“He made me promise that if I did it again that I would do all five branches,” she recalled. This was someone “who liberated the camps and saved us all,” said Landerman-Garber. “That’s a big promise I’m making to a hero, so there’s no stopping me now.”
Pursuant to the veteran’s request, Landerman-Garber expanded her efforts, and in 2018, the one-time Tree of Life congregant — she attended preschool, Hebrew school and received confirmation as well as got married and named her daughters there — formed a nonprofit corporation, Holiday Cards 4 Our Military-NH Challenge, and began accepting donations to offset postage costs. That year Landerman-Garber set a goal of sending out 25,000 handwritten holiday cards — 5,000 to each branch of the military. She received 50,000 instead.
When it came time to strategize for 2019, Landerman-Garber was invited to Washington, D.C., to meet with politicians and senior military officials. The trek paid off, as weeks ago she sent nearly 175,000 holiday cards to soldiers stationed overseas. Logistically, it required the local post office to open early at 5:30 a.m. on three separate occasions.
“We bring donuts and coffee; it’s very hometown-y,” she said.
Hollis, New Hampshire, has a population of 7,684, according to the 2010 census.
It’s a place where people tend to help each other, such as during a recent rainstorm, recalled Landerman-Garber. “My husband was at work and I didn’t have anybody to help carry the boxes, so I called the fire department, and within minutes there were two firefighters there ready to carry them in.”
That spirit of assistance was something her parents, Ethel “Inkie” Landerman and Edgar Landerman, instilled in her and her sister, Emily, at a young age.
“My parents taught us about tzedakah and giving, and going beyond talking about being kind,” said Landerman-Garber who recalled as a child participating in civil rights marches, visiting schools located in Braddock and “in the Hill” and baking cookies to bring to volunteer sites.
Landerman-Garber said she is proud that she and her sister, a Fox Chapel resident, continue to uphold those values. But the fact that her project became a national story (she’s been covered by numerous outlets including CNN.com and ABC World News Tonight) doesn’t make it any more important than anyone else’s simple act of kindness, she explained.
“I mean, this was a family tradition that started from a magazine,” she said. “If I had five cards next year instead of 175,000, that’d be fine because every act of kindness counts.”
The key message, she continued, is to discover the good and act on it. “It’s really easy to reach in and find it and then do something about it.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.