Nonprofit assists troops’ families

Libby George

Reservists and National Guard troops have been mobilizing for months, and now civilians are following their lead.

On Tuesday, Minnesota first lady Mary Pawlenty, joined by husband Gov. Tim Pawlenty, unveiled her “pet project” – the Family Care Initiative – which will organize volunteer and nonprofit groups to assist families that activated troops leave behind.

“There is an enormous and unharnessed spirit of service in Minnesota,” the first lady said.

She said the program was launched in response to an outpouring of calls to Minnesota Reserve units from citizens and groups who want to help.

“I probably take about 15 calls a day from people that want to help in some way,” Minnesota National Guard 2nd Lt. Anna Lewicki said.

Pawlenty’s plan consolidates the organizations on a Web page accessible from the governor’s Web site. There, groups can register to offer assistance, such as raking leaves, mowing lawns or running errands, get tips on what help families need and provide links to sites where letters and donations can be sent to the troops.

Maj. Gen. Eugene Andreotti, with the Minnesota National Guard’s Department of Military Affairs, said the families – not the troops – are the primary concern.

“I’m not concerned about our soldiers,” Andreotti said. “They’ll meet their mission. I’m worried about the families.”

Both Pawlenty and Andreotti said most families do not initially need help, but that as the war drags on, things will get harder for them.

Pastor Vicki Windfeldt of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie said she has already mobilized volunteer efforts and her church will be on the list.

She said the church set up a system to identify families for whom to pray. They will also provide substantive help to families in need, she said.

“In the beginning, anyone thinks they can survive, but as time goes on it gets hard,” Windfeldt said.

Windfeldt’s system currently includes more than 125 families from across the state, which makes any help other than prayer difficult. She said Pawlenty’s system – which aims to make the list “user friendly” and searchable by ZIP code – will alleviate these problems.

“One church just obviously can’t do it all, but if all the churches and organizations across Minnesota get organized Ö what a great way to help,” she said.

The site also contains links to DefendAmerica – which allows citizens to send supportive e-mails and care packages to troops.

Lewicki said e-mails to activated troops are essential because of limits on packages and postal letters soldiers can receive.

“It’s really, really important to morale. That support means a lot,” Lewicki said.

Both Pawlentys told citizens not to view support of troops as political.

“I think it’s important to understand that a 4-year-old child doesn’t understand military operations,” Mary Pawlenty said. “They just know that mom or dad is gone for a long time.”

Tim Pawlenty also asked protesters not to engage police during protests because of the strain this puts on city resources.

“We respect the right of people to protest and their right to express opinions. Ö I’m asking them to pull short of having to engage law enforcement officers in arrests,” the governor said.

He said that, if necessary, the city might force unlawful protesters to pay restitution for their disruption.

Libby George covers politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]