Peoria Journal Star

August 28, 2006

Peoria area scores high in gifts to troops
Region ranks seventh in nation among metro areas in sending gift certificates




WASHINGTON, D.C. - The generosity and patriotism of Peoria residents - and a local promotional effort - were enough to place the city well above several much bigger metropolitan areas in sending gift certificates to service members in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A survey by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service showed the Peoria-Bloomington area seventh in the nation in the number of exchange gift certificates sent to the deployed service personnel - ahead of such large cities as Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

The survey showed 302 of the gift certificates came from the area, with 300 of those produced by a drive staged by the JMP Radio Group and the Uftring automobile dealers in Peoria, according to Cheryl Bunn, sales manager for the radio group.

That effort was far behind the leader, Dallas, with a total of 2,580 gifts, and the second-place city, New York, with 923. But it was right up there with Washington, D.C.; Hartford, Conn.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Cleveland, which provided from 327 to 307 gifts. And it was ahead of 131 other metropolitan areas on the survey.

The gift certificates are a key part of the exchange system's "Gifts from the Homefront" program to support troops in the combat zone.

The certificate effort was launched in 2003 in response to a Defense Department order banning the acceptance of gift packages sent to service members overseas, because of security concerns, exchange system spokesman Judd Anstey said.

"This really takes away the danger of not knowing the sender," Anstey said. "It's safe and efficient - efficient because the Gatorade, cameras and other items are already there" in the 52 exchange stores the Army-Air Force system operates in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries in that region where large numbers of U.S. service members are deployed, he said.

The Army-Air Force system also serves the Marines and sailors in the region.

The program has produced 18,977 certificates with a total value of $328,325.

In addition to avoiding the security concerns, the gift certificates enable the service members to buy what they want or need and saves the high mailing cost, Anstey said.

Bunn said they choose the gift certificates instead of sending packages because of that high postage. "It's a great program. I suggest if anyone wants to contribute to the troops, that's the way they do it."

JMP, which owns WMBD and several other radio stations, and Uftring ran their solicitation last November and December and raised $15,000, which bought 300 gift certificates worth $50 each, she said.

Anstey said the gift cards can be in value from $5 to $50 and can be sent to a specific service member or left undesignated, in which case the exchange system provides them to the Red Cross or other charitable organizations to distribute.