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LOCKPORT – For the seventh consecutive year, the Lockport Salvation Army is collecting signatures from the public for what it calls the world’s largest Christmas card, to be mailed to American military personnel.

The cards are 26-by-40-inch sheets of paper, bound together in a foamboard cover, front and back, and mailed between sheets of quarter-inch plywood to keep them intact.

Christopher Gresart, director of the Salvation Army Community Center, said the cards are available to be signed in the Salvation Army building, 50 Cottage St., any time the building is open from Sunday through Friday starting at about 8 a.m.

A more formal signing opportunity is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 28-30 in the gymnasium at the Salvation Army complex.

The claim of the world’s largest card is based on the total surface of the multiple pages.

Gresart said the official Guinness world record for the largest Christmas card is held by a 10-by-30-foot wall mural. He said that the total square footage of the Salvation Army’s pages far exceeds that.

“Last year, the total square footage of ours was over 600 square feet. Theirs was 300 square feet,” Gresart. “It was a wall hanging in a mall. It wasn’t meant to be sent. … We haven’t tried to have it verified, because there’s a fee you have to pay to have Guinness come out and verify it.”

On 2012’s card, 174 pages of signatures were gathered, and each bound book sent out had at least 20 pages.

Over the past six years, about 21,750 signatures have been collected on the cards.

“I had one of the after-school kids count them when they were laid out in the gym,” Gresart laughed. “It averages about 25 signatures a page.”

No other Salvation Army location has copied the Christmas card idea.

“We actually try to not have anybody else do it. I believe if you overdo something, it’s overkill, and it doesn’t mean anything,” said Maj. John Wheeler, commanding officer of the Salvation Army in Lockport. “If it’s just Lockport doing it, it’s special to us.”

The binding and printing of the covers is handled by Jack Florio at Micro Graphics, a Lockport company. Local artists have contributed an original work for the cover each year since 2007. This year’s cover, depicting a soldier at prayer, was produced by Kathleen S. Giles of Barker.

She said the painting actually was made several years ago and shows a Barker man who had just returned from Afghanistan.

Gresart said the bound books of cards are designed to be kept together or separated into individual sheets, as the recipients desire.

Cards will be hand-delivered to the Veterans Affairs medical facilities in Buffalo and Batavia. The U.S. Postal Service handles delivery to the head trauma rehabilitation center at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Fla., and to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Addresses for two active units in Afghanistan will be obtained through a contact at the 914th Airlift Wing at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. Last year’s card to Iraq actually ended up at a base in Kuwait that was processing the forces being withdrawn from Iraq. There will be no mailing to Iraq this year, Gresart said.

“We have to send them to specific people. You’re not allowed to just generally mail them,” Gresart said. “We get those addresses through National Guard Family Services.”

Gresart started gathering signatures in May, at the Memorial Day car cruise in Lockport. He’s gathered signatures at other local events, although he didn’t get out as much as normal this year because of an illness in his family.

Some people he asked to sign actually said no, Gresart said. “People thought we were collecting money and they had to pay to sign the card,” he said. There is no fee connected with signing.

Blank cards are sent to classrooms in primary, intermediate and middle schools in the Lockport, Starpoint, Newfane and Wilson districts, Gresart said. Many make class projects out of the request.

“Some of them get rather elaborate,” Gresart said. “We have over 100 pages out at schools right now. We’ve actually got about 30 signed pages here now.”

The idea for the card arose during a brainstorming session about the Salvation Army’s Christmas programming.

Gresart said he came up with the notion himself, adding to an already full plate.

“I oversee the after-school program, evening recreation programs, adult self-help programs that go on in the evening, community outreach things, different events that go on in the community, open gym time for adults during the day,” he said.

“The original idea was, we were going to do a barn-door-size card and get either the 107th or the 914th to send it somewhere,” Gresart said. “They said only if one of their planes was being deployed would they be able to transport something like that. So then Hank Beamer (of the Salvation Army advisory board) went to the post office and found out what was the largest size they would ship.”

Beamer is in charge of buying the lumber and packing the cards.

Wheeler said about 15 percent of the meals served daily at the Salvation Army soup kitchen are believed to be fed to veterans.

Wheeler, the Salvation Army’s commanding officer, said the Army’s annual Thanksgiving Day dinner will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the holiday. Reservations for deliveries, which are restricted to the handicapped, ill or homebound, may be made by phoning 434-1276. Takeout meals will be available as well as eat-in meals at the Cottage Street site.

“Some families grab several of them and have their Thanksgiving dinner at home,” Wheeler said. The Army serves between 700 and 800 meals each Thanksgiving.

“For a city this size, that’s quite a lot of food,” Wheeler said.

Also, the Salvation Army’s kettle drive started Friday at the Tops Markets on South Transit and Rochester roads in Lockport, on Lockport-Olcott Road in Wrights Corners and at the Lockport Walmart on South Transit Road. Those kettles are expected to be there daily, while other kettles will make occasional appearances at other area stores this holiday season.

The Salvation Army plans to break ground in the spring for its long-awaited expansion project, Wheeler said.

The $3 million project was approved by the city nearly three years ago, but design issues have held up the plan, he said.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com