BEAVER (ABC4) – Birthday parties are typically occasions when children celebrate their big day with cakes, ice cream, and more often than not, plenty of gifts.
Raider Blomquist, however, took the opportunity to use his birthday as a springboard for continuous giving from himself, his family, and his local community.
Growing up, Blomquist idolized his older brother, Smokey, who joined the Utah National Guard in 2014. Raider tells ABC4 that he remembers going shooting and doing all kinds of “fun stuff” with his brother before he was deployed overseas in 2018.
Missing Smokey a lot, and looking for a way to support him and his fellow troops from home, Blomquist decided to make care packages with his friends for his 10th birthday party. The idea was a hit. Blomquist and his friends and family had so much fun making the packages, they decided to brainstorm ideas to continue to support Smokey and other troops serving abroad.
After talking to other returned servicemen, the Blomquists came up with an inexpensive, yet thoughtful gift to send to the troops in volume; sunflower seeds.
There are several reasons why troops love sunflower seeds, according to Smokey and Raider’s mother, Burgundy.
“If there’s downtime, it kind of keeps you busy,” she tells ABC4. “They can also keep you awake.”
With the idea in place, and the inspiration in Raider’s heart, the Blomquists began “Seeds for Soldiers. “
Fast forward two years later, and the family has sent almost 5,000 bags of sunflower seeds to overseas troops, with a hand-drawn or handwritten card accompanying each bag. While the family has provided many of the bags themselves, the majority of them have been donated by members of their tight-knit community.
It’s a lot of work to put the packages together, especially when it comes to creating an original card for each bag of seeds. It got to be overwhelming for Raider, who is now 12-years-old and enjoying the summer break before entering junior high in the fall.
After posting a call for help on Facebook in making cards for the bags, the Blomquists have been overwhelmed by the local community’s response.
“The entire school stepped up and had every student, make a card. There’s 500 cards right there,” Burgundy explains. “We had a lady, a friend of a friend, I’ve never even met her, she’s like, 89-years-old, and colored like 25 beautiful cards. The people have been amazing.”
Additionally, Seeds for Soldiers has sold t-shirts to pay for the shipping costs of sending the seeds to platoons all over the globe and has sold hundreds of shirts so far.
It remains a lot of work. Blomquist jokes that each night at their home in Beaver, the family gathers in the living room to work on packing seeds and cards while they watch TV.
The Blomquist’s efforts, especially Raider’s, caught the eye of Utah Representative Chris Stewart.
While passing through the state yesterday, Stewart took time to meet with the Blomquists and thank Raider for his efforts with a personally written letter on official letterhead.
Raider, who is known as shy and soft-spoken, according to his mother, was thrilled and engaged during his meeting with Stewart and particularly enjoyed hearing the congressman’s stories of his time in the Air Force.
To Stewart, Blomquist was anything but reserved in their time together.
“He sure didn’t seem shy to me, he seems like an outgoing, confident young guy,” Stewart recalls. “We spent a lot of time talking about well how did you get this idea for sending seeds and he talked about his brother being deployed and, raising the money and writing the card with each package of seeds and getting people to help with the notes it was. It was cool.”
Remembering his time in the military, Stewart says the importance of care packages from strangers back home means a lot to those in the service.
“You just miss the things from home, that you kind of take for granted. You can run down to 7-11 and buy seeds. If you’re deployed and deployed for a long time, you can’t go buy them and you eventually run out of the ones you brought from home,” he explains.
More than just replenishing a supply, the emotional support of a package is also meaningful, according to Stewart.
“It was just a nice little nice little reminder that you know somebody back home who I don’t know and probably will never meet cared enough to send this to us and, you know, that means a lot to people when they’re deployed and away from their friends and their family,” Stewart says.
For a child to spark such a kind gesture to military members is unbelievable to Stewart. He also credits his parents for instilling strong and generous values in their children.
“He’s an extraordinary person,” Stewart says of Raider. “I think it shows the influence his brother had on him. That obviously impacted him. And it was really clear from meeting his mom and his dad, all of them had on Army t-shirts. They’re obviously really proud to be Americans.”