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Operation Gratitude sending sweets to troops

Photo provided Reuter Family Dentistry Practice Manager Ryan Reuter, dressed as a pirate, gives away US gold dollars to kids who donated candy through the dentist practice's candy buyback program. Nearly 100 pounds of candy was taken in during the drive.

Almost 100 pounds of extra Halloween candy is being sent to U.S. troops deployed in harm's way through Reuter Family Dentistry's participation in the national Candy Buyback and Operation Gratitude.

"We filled up two 17-gallon buckets of them," practice manager Ryan Reuter said. "It was a good turnout."

Dr. Heidi Reuter had participated in Candy Buyback at her previous practice before moving to Wadena.

Ryan Reuter said they became aware of Operation Gratitude through the nationwide Halloween Candy Buyback website and thought it was a good cause.

Dental offices participating in Candy Buyback ship the goodies to Operation Gratitude, which incorporates the candy into care packages to be addressed to individual soldiers.

Founded in 2007, Candy Buyback is partnered with Operation Gratitude, and they are both based in Van Nuys, Calif.

According to the Operation Gratitude website, the care packages are assembled at the Army National Guard Armory in Van Nuys and include food, hygiene products, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation. It is a nonprofit funded entirely by private donations.

The care packages can be sent to children of soldiers and wounded warriors as well as deployed soldiers.

At least 100,000 care packages are sent per year, as estimated by the website.

According to the Halloween Candy buyback website, a frequently asked question is whether Halloween candy is as bad for troops as it is for kids.

"We're not trying to defer cavities to the soldiers," Reuter said.

The site said that a piece of candy provides a little bit of happiness for soldiers risking their lives every day and reminds them of life back home, and also that soldiers are adults who know how to take care of themselves.

Reuter said the project is close to home, as his uncle is a recently retired Navy veteran who served as a pilot in Desert Storm.

"I actually spent a week on an aircraft carrier with him when I was ten years old," he said.

Reuter said they had good feedback about the project from the community.

"I was surprised at how outspoken everyone was about the event," he said. "We even had people without kids bringing in their extra candy from Halloween night just because they thought it was a good cause and they really liked what we were doing."

He said the kids also got a kick out of the dollar coins from the treasure chest.

"Every time Jack Sparrow gave them a gold coin their eyes lit up," he said.

More information about Operation Gratitude can be found on its website,