Groups honored for troop support

SPRINGFIELD – Two Champaign organizations received Homefront Hero awards on Tuesday for their work supporting U.S. troops overseas.

Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who presented the awards at a ceremony in Springfield, called the winners "a living testament to the power of American patriotism."

"When we say we support our troops, we mean it," Quinn said.

Lori Stewart of Champaign accepted the Homefront Hero award on behalf of Toys for Troops, an organization she founded to provide playthings for her son, Army Spc. Brian Jolley, and other soldiers to hand out to Iraqi children living in the midst of a war zone.

"The response was remarkable," Stewart said, noting that donations poured in from all over the United States. "I've been really amazed at the response."

Toys for Troops has already sent 14,000 Beanie Babies and soccer balls overseas, and is now working on holiday care packages to provide soldiers with items such as iPod shuffles, CDs and DVDs.

A local prayer group called Champaign Urbana Military Moms was also honored with the Homefront Hero award on Tuesday. The organization, which is also open to siblings, spouses, grandparents and other relatives, offers prayer, comfort and support to military families. Champaign Urbana Military Moms also helps arrange homecoming festivities, sends care packages overseas and makes fleece blankets for wounded soldiers.

"We don't feel that we are doing anything heroic," said Mary Long of Champaign. "That is what our loved ones in the military are doing. We just seek to be faithful."

Long was joined at the ceremony by three fellow members: Chris Lyke of Champaign, Kay Cook of Urbana and Ava Tomson of Tolono.

Other Homefront Hero award winners included: Dale and Ryan Bishop of Litchfield, who made an award-winning video tribute to fallen Army Cpl. Ryan J. Buckley; Daryl Allen of Springfield, who launched a DVD collection drive for deployed military members; The Elks Lodges of Illinois for their Serving our Soldiers care package project; Service Employees International Union members from the secretary of state's vehicle services department, who adopted seven Illinois soldiers who had not been receiving care packages from home; Women of the Mascoutah Moose Chapter 392, an organization that has filled and sent more than 23,000 homemade Christmas stockings to troops overseas; Peoria-based Central Illinois Proud Families for its "Operation Santa" program; Decatur Operation Enduring Support; Larry Pulley of Springfield, who sends Bibles to families of fallen service members from Illinois; and the Macoupin County Military Support Group for its personalized care packages.

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