Julie Peterson Bootstrap Comrades

Julie Peterson, left, and her daughter, Chelsy Blake Peterson, are busy this holiday season with Operation Kandy Kane, which donates gift baskets and toys to area veterans and their families in need.

Operation Kandy Kane is a local program that supplies Christmas food and gifts to veterans, and their families. Founder of the program, Julie Peterson, saw the need for extra help for veterans in December and Operation Kandy Kane was born three years ago.

Peterson is an outreach worker for Bootstrap Comrades, an organization that assists area veterans and their families, based in Eagle Bend. She is a Sauk Centre native, graduate of Sauk Centre High School in 1987.

More than 30 veterans and their families have signed up or been referred this year for Operation Kandy Kane, and Peterson is busy daily working to fill their Christmas wishes. The need is increased this year, she said. Last year, 25 families received gifts and turkey products through a donation by Jennie-O Turkey Store in Melrose.

Jennie-O has been a faithful donor to the Bootstrap Comrades program. In September, Jennie-O donated 1,000 pounds of turkey to the program for distribution to veterans and families in the Sauk Centre area. The next planned donation will be distributed in the St. Cloud area.

“Jennie-O is very good to the veterans,” Peterson says.

Operation Kandy Kane supplies Christmas food baskets and gifts for veterans and their families.

Peterson is inviting the community to join in thanking veterans at Christmas by donating toys, by adopting a veteran or a veteran family, or by volunteering to deliver baskets and gifts to them.

In addition, Peterson is looking to move the program out of her home in Sauk Centre.

“Last year we did it out of our home, and it took over the living room, the dining room and the kitchen. We couldn’t walk in there for over a week,” she said. “This year we are hoping someone will donate space so we can do this ahead of time as donations come in. If we could use a space that has a big cooler for a week it would be appreciated.”

Peterson said toys for all ages of children are needed, especially teenagers.

“Teens seem to be left out,” she said.

While there is increased activity during Operation Kandy Kane, Peterson is busy year-round with Bootstrap Comrades. This is her fourth year of volunteering her time to help veterans and their families.

She became active in the programs through her acquaintance with Jode Freyholtz-London, executive director of Wellness in the Woods, which is the parent 501(c)3 organization for Bootstrap Comrades.

“I started helping because I met Jode. I have the highest regard for Jode and have seen the wonderful things she has done, and how she helps so many people.”

A planned fundraiser for Operation Kandy Kane last summer had to be cancelled when Peterson was laid up with foot surgery. Without that fundraiser there is a greater need for donations this season.

Peterson’s volunteer activities include making meals for veterans who need help, driving to appointments, helping with veterans’ paperwork, food assistance, delivering hot meals to those who are sick, just visiting veterans who are lonely and occasionally helping at the Sauk Centre Senior Dining Site.

Past activities have included furnishing treats to the Behavioral Health Unit at the St. Cloud VA Hospital, during the 2017 Christmas season, as well as during the St. Patrick’s Day holiday.

Operation Kandy Kane will include delivering food baskets — which will include all the food needed to cook a holiday meal — for veterans and families who have signed up or who have been referred to the program.

Those who want to donate food or toys or their time to Operation Kandy Kane, or adopt a veteran or a veteran’s family, can call or text Julie Peterson at (320) 534-8766. Checks can be sent to Wellness in the Woods, 738 Third Ave. NE, Eagle Bend, MN 56446. Wellness in the Woods is a multi-county nonprofit which works with people with mental illness.

Donations will be accepted until Dec. 20.

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