Christmas Bundle Sent to Europe
Produces 55-year Friendship

By Pearl Sensenig
Mennonite Central Committee Communications

A note tucked into a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Christmas bundle sent to post-World War II Europe has resulted in a 50-year, trans-Atlantic friendship.

Pennsylvania resident Salinda Stolzfus Weber recalls how in the mid- 1940s her older sister responded to MCC's request for Christmas bundles -- clothing, soap and a few other items wrapped in a bath towel -- for people in war-ravaged Europe.

MCC encouraged North Americans to include their addresses, and soon Salinda's sister began receiving letters from the teen-age girl in Holland who had received her bundle. At Salinda's prodding, her sister inquired whether her new Dutch friend could find a pen pal for Salinda. She suggested her cousin, Corey Stokvis -- Corey Barthel since her marriage.

Salinda and Corey have been writing, visiting and phoning ever since, with the exception of a brief period when the two temporarily lost contact.

Salinda, now 65, keeps a photo album with carefully handwritten captions detailing the decades of this "treasured friendship." The first pages show Corey, about 16, with a saucy smile and fashionably bobbed hair. Near the end is a gray-haired Corey relaxing in her garden with her grown children. In the middle are photos of Salinda and Corey, with their husbands, visiting in each other's homes.

After dozens of letters, the two first met in 1987 when Salinda and her husband, Floyd, traveled to Holland. "I was nervous," admits Salinda. "What if we didn't like each other?" Her fears were unfounded.

"It was like coming home," says Salinda, as she and Corey found much in common. Their husbands also became fast friends.

In 1989 Corey and her husband, Karel, visited the United States. "I'm afraid to fly but if it means visiting you, then I fly," wrote Corey, who arrived safely and enjoyed her stay. Since then Salinda and Floyd have visited Holland two more times.

Despite the miles that separate them, Salinda's and Corey's lives have remarkable parallels. Both women live close to their birthplaces -- Salinda near Morgantown, Pa., and Corey, in Hilversum, Holland. Both have two daughters and one son who are approximately the same ages. Both were homemakers who enjoyed needlework and flowers. Both gardened, and canned and froze vegetables and fruits for their families.

Their memories of World War II, however, are much different. Salinda recalls the ration stamps needed to buy sugar and shoes, and seeing German prisoners-of-war picking potatoes at a nearby farm in Pennsylvania. Corey remembers gnawing hunger, marauding soldiers and the terror of night-time bombing that made her cower in bed with blankets over her head.

A sad look enters Salinda's eyes as she relates one area in which the two friends don't agree. "Many years ago I shared with Corey my belief in God," relates Salinda. "She said she couldn't believe it herself. However, we remain friends."

Recently when Corey's husband underwent heart surgery, she tearfully phoned Salinda. Salinda said she would pray, and enlisted six of her brothers and sisters to do the same. Corey said she was grateful.

Today Salinda's and Corey's sons -- Mark and Edwin -- continue their mother's tradition of friendship. The two first met when Edwin visited the United States with his parents. Since then the two men, in their mid-30s, have kept in touch through letters and phone calls.

Christmas Bundles Are Sought Again

The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is currently requesting an updated version of the "Christmas bundle" that Salinda Weber's sister assembled many years ago, and is again encouraging North Americans to include their names and addresses.

MCC hopes to collect 4,000 "Comfort 'n Joy bundles" for refugees in the former Yugoslavia. Bundles should include: comforter or blanket, deodorant stick, hairbrush and comb, bath towel, toothpaste, four toothbrushes, four bars of bath soap, package of disposable razors, mittens or gloves (adult or child sizes), hard candy, Christmas card with flat ornament or photo (optional) and a new, small stuffed animal. MCC also asks for $5 to cover shipping costs. Contact (717)859-1151 for more information.

Posted December 9, 1997
Copyright ©1997 Mennonite Central Committee Communications

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