By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — A patriotic local project has found a new haven at LT’s Grill in Niskayuna.
On Tuesday, Feb. 3, volunteers for an organization called Stars for Our Troops met for the first time at the restaurant to snip, sort and package embroidered white stars on blue backgrounds usually only seen in groups of 50, surrounded by red and white stripes.
Their purpose is to create tokens of appreciation for military servicemen and women, as well as veterans. They tuck the stars inside plastic baggies with cards that remind recipients that “You are not forgotten.”
The meeting, or Star Party, was part of an effort to expand the number of locations where Stars For Our Troops volunteers gather.
Founded in 2010 by Susan Wells of Troy (“The home of Uncle Sam,” as her e-mail signature proudly reminds), the group meets monthly at a variety of spots around the Capital Region, from Gettysburg Flag Works in East Greenbush to the Joyful Quilter in Glenville.
The stars come from old American flags that are too worn to fly respectfully. They are donated from all over the country. The cantons — the upper left corner of the flag, the blue field with white stars — is cut from the rest of the flag and washed, then forwarded to the volunteers. The rest of the flag — the stripes — is disposed of.
During every meeting, the participants take the freshly washed blue cantons and cut meticulously around each white, embroidered star, from point to point. They then pass them, assembly line-style, to other volunteers who check to make sure they’re cut neatly, then slip them into transparent bags with cards that explain the project and thank the recipient for his or her service.
Other volunteers count the stars and slip them into packages of 50, which anyone may request from the group’s website. Another group folds paper thank you cards with outlines for coloring, which they offer to any kids who are nearby and show a little interest. The cards are included in packages sent to active duty military personnel.
At one particularly popular Star Party site, ClearChannel Radio in Latham, as many as 30 people typically show up on the fourth Wednesday of each month.
At the group’s first meeting at LT’s, attendance was lower than usual, just five or six people around a table, enjoying pizza and working together. But J.T. Goldstock, the owner of LT’s Grill, said he’s certain the crowd will grow.
“I want to introduce this to our clientele,” he said. Goldstock has already shown his support for the project by providing pizza for the ClearChannel meetings and keeping a jar of the stars in the restaurant. He encourages waitstaff to hand the tokens out to veterans and active-duty service members.
Goldstock, whose father served in the military, said he especially enjoys seeing kids get excited about coloring the thank you cards, and watching the staff hand out the stars to patrons.
“If it wasn’t for the servicemen and women we wouldn’t be able to do the things we do,” he said. “I really applaud the people that come out here and do this.”
Leading the busy volunteers, and frequently leaning across the table to do a quick quality check, was founder Susan Wells. It was easy to tell she was in charge of the patriotic volunteer group, because she was decked out in head-to-toe stars and stripes.
Well, not completely to toe; the weather had forced her to wear a pair of plain boots. Her friends said the outfit was typical of what Wells wears every day.
“When people are doing this, I ask them to find the prettier side” of the star, Wells said, watching as frequent volunteers Sue and Bob Hollner combined cards and stars in their individual packages.
“I never was in the military,” Bob Hollner said. “It’s just my way of giving back.”
He and his wife are both Red Knights, local firefighters who ride motorcycles together. The group often works to support local military members.
During their time working with Stars For Our Troops, the two have touched more tokens from the flag than they can count. “It’s got to be thousands,” Sue Hollner said.