tampabay.com

Cares enough to send her very best

By WILL VAN SANT
Published May 2, 2007


LARGO - The romance between Evelyn and Joe Bartoszek started more than 60 years ago when she spotted the young man walking down a street in Camden, N.J., carrying a cheesecake.

"I said, 'My, that boy looks great, '" recalls Evelyn, now 80. "Then he went overseas."

For Joe, overseas meant Utah Beach and the D-day invasion, which he took part in as a member of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment. After being injured by shrapnel in France, Joe came home and the two married.

They've been together for 59 years and have spent the last 13 in Largo, where they live at the Oak Crest Mobile Home Park. Their place is cream-colored and has rose bushes out front.

Evelyn resolved in 2003 that she was going to do something for the troops fighting abroad. And it was easy to decide who would be getting her lovingly prepared care packages.

Sometimes soldiers not with the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment have been so lucky to receive one. But most of her packages have gone to those serving in Iraq with her husband's former unit.

They're a deserving bunch, having endured two deployments to Iraq and now preparing for yet another round in the conflict zone beginning this September, Evelyn said.

"The men are so grateful for everything we do, " she said. "They hold a special place in my heart."

Six thousand care packages after she got started, Evelyn Bartoszek was honored Tuesday by Gov. Charlie Crist, whose office bestowed on her his Point of Light Award, given to individuals in the state notable for their volunteer work.

"It underscores what we all can do with a little bit of time and a lot of compassion, " Fonda Anderson of the Volunteer Florida Foundation said of Bartoszek's honor in a ceremony before the Pinellas County Commission.

Service to country is not something Bartoszek picked up in retirement. As a girl in Camden, she would go with her father, a furniture finisher, to the roof of the Walt Whitman Hotel and search the skies for Japanese planes.

"We stood there for hours, " she said of her plane spotting days. "You wanted to get in and do something for your country."

When Bartoszek sends a care package, she tries to include two boxes. In one go essentials like shampoo, writing paper, books and deodorant. In the other go foods like peanut butter and jelly and treats like candy and cookies.

The boxes are 5.5 inches high, 11 inches long and 8.5 inches wide. A full box weighs about 10 pounds and costs $8.10 to mail overseas.

Bartoszek, a retired nurse, and her husband, a retired Greyhound bus driver, rely on Social Security. Donations from the four local Republican clubs she belongs to cover the cost of goods and shipping.

"She's been doing it for quite a while, " said Joe Bartoszek, 81. "It's her pride and I'm proud of her, too."

She usually sends out an average of 16 to 18 boxes a month. But over Christmas, generally a busy time, she was on a tear. Evelyn sent out 110 boxes in December and January.

All that boxing caused some damage to her thumb. So she's getting cortisone shots and is ready to get back to work, although her cupboard is pretty bare now and she's on the lookout for stuff to send.

Evelyn Bartoszek says she'll keep at it until one of two things happens: either she dies or the war ends.

"I know from the letters that I receive how much this means to our guys, " she said. "Got to keep that morale up."

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or 445-4166.