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Ag crystals serve U.S. soldiers while they’re doing their duty in the desert
Illinois Correspondent

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Who knew? Agricultural crystals that are mixed with the soil to add moisture are now filling neck coolers for soldiers overseas.

At the University of Illinois Extension Office in Springfield, Ill., on a warm August day, a room was filled with men and women donating their time to create a long tubular creation that helps keep soldiers cooler while in the desert.

The Sangamon Home and Community Education (formerly known as Home Extension), American Sewing Guild, 4-H, Midwest Mission Distribution Center and others have worked together on this project. This group has also put their heads and hands together to come up with gators, a fleece tube to wear under helmets to keep warm during the winter months.

“This project began when Linda Swindford started sending knitted helmet liners to the troops,” JoAnn’e Glatfelter said. “Linda contacted Carolyn Gerberding who is the leader of the large Cooper Jets 4H group then she enlisted our help.”

The idea for the coolers took off from Swindford, and the group is spreading the word. For the past two years at the Illinois State Fair, 4-Hers demonstrated how to make the neck coolers. Other groups have started working on the project, too.

“The idea is not just what we can do, but what others can do too,” Glatfelter said.

“This is a project that everyone can get behind. It is not the neck coolers as much as (the soldiers) knowing we are thinking about them.”

At the extension office, the group was organized in an assembly line that would have made Henry Ford proud. Workers were set up in stations.

“They call me Simon Legree,” Glatfelter said, joking.

The neck coolers are made from a tan cloth that will blend in with the desert surroundings. After the materials were purchased, the cloth had to be cut into sections, this was the job of work station No. 1. At station No. 2, the cloth is sewn together on the side and at the bottom. Station No. 3 workers iron open the seam, press the tube and turn it.

At station No. 4, one worker marks the tube in four sections. Each section had to be filled with the polymer crystals and sewed shut. Then, the whole procedure was repeated three times.

The next job was to put labels on the neck cooler. Instructions read, “Soak in water 1-60 minutes until pockets expand. Crystals will slowly give up absorbed water, and evaporation will cool you for 10-15 hours. Re-soak and use repeatedly. Should last for about two months before crystals lose their ability to absorb. Dehydrate to store and hand wash in only mild soap. Do not freeze.”

Glatfelter added, “Then we put them in boxes and give them to Linda Swindford, soldiers that are home, or to relatives of soldiers to send to their loved ones.”

There were several relatives of soldiers working on the project. Mary Kern, Janet Rigdon, Betty Dean, and the mother of two sons in the service - Janeen McCarthy - came by to express thanks.

“I have two boys; Mike, 21, and Nick, 19. Both joined the Air National Guard when they were 17. Nick is home from overseas, but Mike is overseas right now. Both have used the neck coolers, they make a world of difference,” McCarthy said.

She emphasized how important this project is.

“I’m impressed,” she said. “And the volunteers don’t even know how much they are contributing.”

Before the group could even begin the project, they had to raise money to pay for the cost of the materials needed for the neck coolers.

“We sent a letter to the editor of the Springfield Journal Register asking for funds,” Glatfelter said. “We had a great response.”

Sunday school classes also came to the rescue providing donations to help purchase materials. The funds were sufficient to create 2,500 neck coolers last season, another 2,500 this season and gators for the winter. Now though, the funds have run out, and more money is needed to continue this effort.

“The neck coolers only last for 2-3 months, so even the soldiers that have received them need more,” Glatfelter said.

For any group or individual that would like to contribute or wish to have neck coolers sent to soldiers, contact Glatfelter at 217-529-1800.

This farm news was published in the Sept. 13, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.