Santa’s Workshop for Soldiers
October 25th, 2017 by Dianna Troyer

Cheri Archibald checks her list while preparing bags for Project Rudolph.

Project Rudolph USA ensures those who serve are not forgotten

Every November, hundreds of volunteers with Project Rudolph USA transform a school gymnasium in southeastern Idaho into Santa’s workshop for soldiers.

Within a few hours, thousands of decorated brown paper lunch bags are filled for December delivery.

Each bag is packed with a flat ornament, a candy cane, a copy of the poem “A Soldiers’ Christmas,” and handwritten letters from a child, teen and adult.

“Soldiers have said they like our gift bags because they’re homemade and individualized,” says Oakley resident Cheri Archibald, co-director of the nonprofit project with her husband, Ray.

Since the project started in 2006, more than 50,000 gift bags have been sent to soldiers in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and South Korea.

“We also ship to those who are sometimes forgotten, like small forward operating bases overseas and the mortuary unit in Dover, Delaware,” she says.

Ray estimates about 300 volunteers pack about 4,400 bags in three hours. Last year, 8,400 bags were mailed.

“It’s like trunk-or-treat with stations for pre-bagged candy, ornaments and letters,” he says. “Volunteers get a bag and walk along to have it filled.”

The Archibalds’ son, Ian, started the charitable task as an Eagle Scout project with his sister, Tawny, and her husband, Joseph, who were stationed in Germany with the Army.

The family intended the project to be a one-time event until a fateful letter arrived.

“A soldier wrote and said he hoped we had time to do it again because that was all he got for Christmas,” says Ray. “How could we quit?”

Within a year, the project took on a life of its own, and donations began arriving year-round.

“We’ve had gifts from all 50 states and 14 foreign countries,” says Cheri.

Donations overflowed from their house into a storage shed. Finally, a local trucking company donated a semi-trailer to store all the gifts.

Ray says the gifts have touched lives in unforeseen ways. One soldier’s package contained a letter written by a former neighbor.

“What are the odds that out of 1,500 bags handed out in Germany, he would get the one with that particular letter?” asks Ray.

Soldiers are not the only ones who benefit.

“One woman thanked us for saving her life,” says Cheri. “She told us she was in her 40s, homebound from being disabled and felt worthless. Writing letters helped her have a sense of purpose and hope.”

Cheri says letters from adults are always needed.

“The thank you letters we receive from soldiers keeps us going,” she says.

Project Rudolph USA has a Facebook page and website, projectrudolph.us.