Just reading the short list of Lilly Nutter's volunteer commitments can induce exhaustion: Welcome Wagon, Chamber of Commerce, Cancer Society, the local food pantry.
But what the 98-year-old great-great-grandmother can usually be found doing is pushing a lawn chair on wheels filled with carefully taped shoebox packages through the hallways of her retirement complex in Warren, Ind. Each package is on the first leg of its journey to Iraq and Afghanistan, where Nutter hopes it will comfort a soldier she has never met.
At the request of some of the troops serving in Iraq, the project even expanded to provide items for the civilians caught in the middle of the war.
"Some of the soldiers established a secret route to a hospital that treated a lot of children. They also wanted something to give to the children and they were very specific: suckers, Tootsie Rolls and stuffed animals."
Nutter's appeal for stuffed animals drew donations from everywhere, including her neighbors at her retirement community. One donated her entire Beanie Baby collection.
The soldiers continued to bring stuffed animals and treats to the children until it was no longer safe to do so, Nutter says.
No stopping her
Although she opposed the U.S. decision to invade Iraq in 2003, Nutter believes that she has a duty to support the troops who are risking their lives.
Aside from the deep sense of well-being that comes from reaching out to help a stranger, Nutter has also collected a few tangible rewards along the way: red roses from a grateful returning soldier, countless notes and cards, and most cherished: a sweatshirt from Iraq that has a picture of a camel on it.
Even as macular degeneration has robbed her of her ability to drive, and makes it increasingly difficult to read, Nutter tries to maintain her breakneck volunteer pace, which she believes has helped her ward off many of the trials of aging.
"Still walking, and other than diminished vision and hearing, not an ache or pain at 98," she says.
Julie Creek is a writer in Indiana.