102-year-old woman mails 1,437 care packages to homesick troops

by Kimberly Pennington, National Correspondent |
Anna Pedron/Georgia

WARREN, Ind. (Christian Examiner) -- Lilly Nutter may be 102 -- but that doesn't mean the retired Chicago native stays still for long. As of May 21, Nutter had mailed 1,437 care packages to members of the United States military.

When 89 year-old Nutter's grandson told her in a 2002 email that his fellow military servicemen and women stationed overseas were homesick and not receiving mail from home, she decided to do something about it.

Lilly Nutter, 102 years old, a retired Chicago native living in Warren, Indiana, has mailed 1,437 care packages to members of the United States military. | Courtesy Photo

Thirteen years later, the former Department of Defense employee who also worked at Grissom Air Force Base in Peru, Indiana, is still filling boxes,

The "shoebox project," as Nutter calls it, involves filling shoeboxes with approximately 30 items ranging from magazines to snacks to toiletry items. The retired grandmother receives suggestions for recipients for her boxes from acquaintances and the general public.

"If she gets the name of a military member, she'll send them a box," said Kelly Jones, Activities Director at Heritage Pointe retirement facility in Warren, Indiana, where Nutter lives.

"I received a wonderful letter from a neighbor's grandson serving over there saying my box contained two items he'd longed for but had not received until my box arrived -- an emory board and dental floss," Nutter told Christian Examiner.

"I took his letter to my generous dentist, and it delighted him, naturally," she said.

Nutter's "generous dentist," who donates toothpaste and dental floss for her care packages, is one of many people who assist with her ministry. Nutter has been amazed by people who have helped but gives ultimate credit to God.

"Our loving heavenly Father has made all this possible, providing even before I ask," she said.

Nutter also has an eye doctor who provided sun glasses and eye drops, a friend who donates cases of popcorn for sailors on three different ships, a librarian who provides magazines, a veterans group -- and individuals from 31 states who make financial contributions to assist with costs of filling and sending the boxes.

When a member of the military asked Nutter to provide stuffed animals and candy for children in an overseas hospital established by the U.S. military -- children who walked barefoot through jungles often wearing blood-stained clothing riddled with bullet holes retrieved from dead bodies -- the community responded.

The owner of Warren's Pulse Opera House offered discounted tickets for every stuffed animal contributed to Nutter's drive. Between those contributions and an individual's donation of 60 Beanie Babies, the effort was so successful that enough stuffed animals were left over for the Warren Police Department to give to local children in need of assistance.

Nutter's work has not gone unnoticed.

In addition to the more than 700 thank you letters and cards from individuals, she has received notes of appreciation from President Barack Obama, other elected officials including two state governors, the national VFW office in Kansas City, and military units. Her albums of thank you letters reside in the Salomonie Valley Historical Museum which also houses artifacts from the decommisioned naval ship U.S.S. Salomonie. Veterans of the ship have assisted with funding postage for Nutter's care packages.

Her work has been publicized by people ranging from the Warren town clerk to the southern gospel musical group Legacy Five. In 2011, U.S. Senator Richard Luger (R-IN) delivered a speech about Nutter from the floor of the United States Senate. His speech now resides in the Library of Congress.

In addition to her care packages for active-duty military, Nutter helps see off retired veterans who participate in the Honor Flight program which enables veterans to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C.

"She's amazing - a dynamic personality. She puts others first and has a strong faith and belief in our American heritage," Jones told Christian Examiner. "God made her one-of-a-kind. She is very humble," Jones said.

Despite vision problems, Nutter happily continues preparing care packages. Anyone who would like to suggest the name of a U.S. military member to receive a care package or make a donation to her work can contact Lilly Nutter, c/o Heritage Pointe, 801 Huntington Avenue, P.O. Box 326, Warren, IN 46792-0326.