Soldier inspires donations to Iraq

What started as a small project to send clothes and medical supplies to the less fortunate in Iraq spiraled into a massive effort across northern Minnesota.

Sgt. Jonathan Fondow
Sgt. Jonathan Fondow shares a moment with an Iraqi boy near Balad. This boy received a wheelchair through donations spearheaded by Jonathan's mother, Connie, of Park Rapids. St. Johns Lutheran Church and churches throughout northern Minnesota donated to the effort. (Submitted photos)

What started as a small project to send clothes and medical supplies to the less fortunate in Iraq spiraled into a massive effort across northern Minnesota.

Don and Connie Fondow of Park Rapids worked on the project with their son, Sgt. Jonathan Fondow, who is part of the 2-320 Field Artillery Regiment under the 101st Airborne. He is on his third tour, now stationed in Balad, Iraq.

He works in operational law, with detainees, as well as soldiers in Balad. When he wasn't working, Jonathan said he saw a lot of poor people on the streets and wanted to help them.

Then he happened to mention to his mom that there were a lot of people that could use some clothes.

From there, his mom, Connie, decided it could be a good project for St. Johns Lutheran Church in Park Rapids, where her husband, Don, was pastor. He is also president of the Minnesota North District of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS), which covers the northern two-thirds of the state of Minnesota.


The project grew rapidly.

"Word spread so quickly," Jonathan said.

Congregations throughout northern Minnesota began collecting donations of clothing as well as medical supplies to send to Jonathan in Iraq.

Connie said people responded so positively to this project. About 40 churches responded, she said.

"When I wasn't working, I was able to go with different convoys during the day and hand out the clothes and supplies I was getting," he said.

Then, he met someone who desperately needed a wheelchair. Jonathan didn't even know if it was possible to get a wheelchair shipped to Iraq but decided to mention it to his mom.

She found a way. It was expensive, but with help, Connie said they made it happen.

"I would guess we've given out between 24 and 40 wheelchairs," Jonathan said.


He has also given out about 500 boxes of clothes and between $10,000 and $15,000 worth of over-the-counter medical supplies, he said.

Some local Park Rapids groups stepped up to donate as well.

The Park Rapids Eye Clinic donated eyeglasses to some boys who desperately needed eyeglasses.

Rotaract donated T-shirts that said "Iraqi Swim Team" and swim suits to a group of kids who wanted more than anything to have a swim team.

"People were so grateful," Jonathan said.

The project meant a lot to Jonathan, he said. This deployment was the hardest because it was extended to 15 months, he said. But, it was also the most rewarding.

"This time we actually saw progress," he said.

For his mom, Connie, the project made his deployment go by more quickly. Most of the donations was sent during the summer and fall.


"It was one of the biggest blessings of my life," she said about working on the donations. "God worked through him and look what he was able to do over there."

Jonathan hopes to be returning home to the United States soon but the date changes constantly, he said. He could return to Ft. Campbell this week or it might be a few weeks.

What To Read Next
Get Local