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Arizona family joins cross country effort to donate to troops overseas

Gwen Pollard started the nationwide group in 2017 because of her son who was deployed at the time.

PHOENIX — It is a mission stretching around the world and has ties right here in the Valley. 

An Arizona family is part of an effort sending shirts to troops overseas.

Barbara, Nancy and Gwen live on opposite sides of the country but all have one thing in common.

“When you have someone overseas and especially in a dangerous area, it’s almost torturous,” Gwen Pollard, founder of Hawaiian Shirts for Deployed Soldiers, said. 

Each woman knows the heartache and pride that can come when a loved one serves overseas. So when given the opportunity to give back, they jumped in.

“We’re kind of a Navy family too and when Barbara K told me about it, I thought, this is a no brainer, this is something we need to do," Nancy Marts said.

Sister-in-laws, Nancy and Barb, quickly joined Pollard’s effort to send Hawaiian shirts and thank you notes to troops overseas. Marts shared their work with us through Nextdoor.

Pollard started the nationwide group in 2017 in South Carolina because of her son who was deployed at the time.

“Instead of going crazy, I decided to do something," Pollard said. "To stay busy doing something, and it helps me out so that’s why I continue to do it.”

The group says they have sent more than 21,000 Hawaiian shirts and notes to troops serving around the world.

“It’s just something to take their mind off of what they’re doing and what they’ve seen," Pollard said. "It’s really hard to erase that.”

Pollard says it boosts morale on base. And the smiles make it back virtually to the people who give from home.

“A retired Navy wife, it was a thing that was close to my heart," Barbara Brownlie said.

Pictures of service men and women flood the group’s Facebook page.

“We see those pictures on Facebook," Brownlie said. "We try to figure out which shirt we sent. So it’s a win win going 'oh we bought that shirt, no we didn’t buy that shirt'.”

It has grabbed so much attention, Pollard says there is a Hawaiian shirt wait list.

“Because the smiles they have on their faces. You can feel the genuine appreciation," Brownlie said.

And it's one of many reasons these women say they have no plans of slowing down.

“(We're) just going to keep sending them until they all come home," Marts said.

The Arizona team has a goal to collect 400 more Hawaiian shirts and notes in September and October.