When Patricia Lewis-Clark of Bluffton recalls her son’s recent departure for his second tour of duty in Iraq — he left on his 21st birthday — tears start to flow.
Lewis-Clark has found a way to stop those tears. She’s active in the Lowcountry Blue Star Moms Chapter No. 6, a part of the national Blue Star Mothers of America. The group supports active duty military as well as retirees, and is recognized by the Department of Defense.
Lewis-Clark and other Blue Star Moms will be collecting items to be shipped to troops overseas from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Back Yard Burgers in Bluffton. Ten percent of all sales at the restaurant during that time will be donated to the group. If you’re interested in helping, Lewis-Clark said the group needs volunteers.
On May 10 — Mother’s Day — and June 6, she and other moms will be bagging groceries in exchange for donations — all to purchase items to send to those serving active duty in the military. The Lowcountry group is one of seven chapters across South Carolina. Locally, the group began as a military parents support group three years ago, but nationally the Blue Star Mothers got its start during World War II.
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While Lewis-Clark’s days are kept busy working as an office manager for a dentist on Hilton Head Island, she spends her nights and weekends supporting her son, U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Brandon Polly, who left for Iraq on March 23.
Three of her four children serve in the military, which makes Lewis-Clark a three-star Blue Star Mom. Each star represents an immediate family members who is active-duty military. She has a T-shirt, bumper sticker and a flag displaying her three-star status.
In addition to Brandon, her 22-year-old daughter, Amber Morgan, is a U.S. Navy Corpsman reservist in Jacksonville, Fla., and her third child, Jeremy Polly, is a recent graduate of U.S. Marine Corps Basic Training at Parris Island. She also was a military wife for 13 years.
Being a Blue Star mom, especially a three-star mom, is difficult, Lewis-Clark said.
“You have to trust in your faith — that is what got me through the last deployment and what will get me through this deployment,” she said.
Brandon, who serves in the infantry and is assigned multiple tasks within his unit as a squad leader, gets to know many fellow Marines. He tells his mother that some Marines don’t get the same support from home that he does.
“He told me of some Marines who had never received anything from home,” Lewis-Clark said. “It just broke my heart.”
So two years ago, she joined the Military Parents Support Group, which branched off to TLC (Troops Love Contact), a group similar to Blue Star Moms that sends care packages.
“We had three Marine moms at the time, and whenever we sent our son a box with TLC in big black letters all over it, they knew it was good stuff, and it wasn’t just for them.”
Last week, the group shipped out 41 care packages.
The three moms — Rose Marie Krauss and Cecilia Rivera, both of Sun City Hilton Head, had sons serving in Iraq, and Lewis-Clark — met via e-mail on a military parents support group Web site, www.MarineParents.com. They were overwhelmed with responses from thankful Marines.
Lewis-Clark already was a Blue Star mom when TLC began, but after finding out the local Blue Star Mothers group was going to be dissolved, she rolled over some of what they were doing with TLC into Blue Star Moms to help keep it going.
While membership in Blue Star Mothers is based on mothers whose immediate family members are active-duty military, membership is open to the public and new members always are needed. Fathers of active duty military are invited to become associate members.
Lewis-Clark is proud to be working from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mother’s Day and June 10 to support her troops by bagging groceries at Kroger in Bluffton. The group also is working with a Beaufort grocery chain to get permission to bag groceries in exchange for donations. It can be difficult for troops to find greeting cards overseas, so the Blue Star Moms also collect holiday cards, blank note cards and birthday cards to send overseas so the troops can write to their own families during holidays.
The group also raises money to purchase Girl Scout Cookies for the troops and so far has raised enough money for 300 boxes.
Since January, the Lowcountry Blue Star moms have sent out 82 care packages, each containing a minimum of three boxes cookies. The Sun City Hilton Head Island Veterans organization covered all mailing costs. Twenty of the boxes were sent to Marines serving in Iraq; 40 boxes were sent to 10 separate units of those serving in the Army in Iraq; 13 boxes were sent to two separate units of Army soldiers in Afghanistan; and eight boxes went to a special operations unit from Savannah serving overseas.
“This way, I can help more sons and daughters who are deployed. With tips and items donated, we can send more care packages. It is not about me — that’s what being a mother is about,” Lewis-Clark said. “I would rather send care packages than be pampered on Mother’s Day. I try to stay so busy so I don’t have time to cry.”