It started out very simply. Paula Cornell’s husband didn’t brush his teeth one day. When she called him on it, he pointed out that he didn’t have the opportunity to brush his teeth for a year when he was in Viet Nam.
She started sending out care packages, basing her efforts in the garage. After a year, Janie Josephson signed on as a business partner and they started For The Troops, a non profit organization dedicated to sending care packages to our deployed military in Afghanistan and Iraq.
This organization has grown, and was even mentioned on CNN’s ireport page last year when they sent out their 25,000 care package. As you can imagine, by that time they had long outgrown Paula’s garage. Sycamore Village donated them a storefront, then a second and third. They even pay a portion of the utilities.
Even with this expanded area, no space is wasted. In the front, people who came to bring donations are met with someone to take them, offer their appreciation and so on. Along the right wall are stacks of ready care packages awaiting their own deployment.
Towards the rear are several sewing machines, at which neck cooler tiess are being constructed. That process is completed at a table in the next room, where special polymer inserts are added. This helps provide some relief from the heat and helps prevent heat related illnesses.
There is an assembly line set up on the far left wall. It starts with the “library,” where donated paperbacks are assembled and set up to be loaded into the boxes. Carefully saved comic strips from the local newspaper are the first things to go in, followed by two magazines and a book. As you move along, everything from batteries to toothpaste and lip balm are added.
Each box also has a package of baby wipes. That might seem like an odd thing to add, but many of these soldiers are so deep into Afghanistan and Iraq that they have no access to any means of getting clean. One area had four portable showers for 800 troops, and the showers didn’t always work. Those baby wipes were a real life saver.
Another interesting thing put into these boxes are different ways to flavor water. Bigelow Tea donated a big box of single use tea bags, and has offered to send more when that runs out. Another favorite for our heroes is Crystal Light. The little single use packets can be dumped into a water bottle or canteen, disguising the fact that the water doesn’t taste pleasant.
One of the volunteers is also a military mom. She knows how much it means to get a message from a son or daughter deployed a long way from home. So, inside the boxes there are stationery kits complete with pen with a note that to write back home.
Each box also has a letter from our local school children. These letters are the most cherished item in the box. Some soldiers pin them up on the walls so everyone can read them.
All of the letters are poignant, but one of the best remembered came from a youngster who made his letter into a sort of card. Inside, the staff could feel something folded up. They opened it up and six dollars dropped out. The letter read, “When you get out, have a beer on me.”
While donations of products are always welcome, there is a critical need for postage. Each care package costs about $10 to send. At the moment, they have 900 boxes, and desperately need $9,000 to send them.
I would like to thank all the volunteers I met today for their efforts. Most of them come every day to help get everything that needs done accomplished. I would also like to thank Paula, Janie and the Advisory Board, many of whom I met today. This is truly a labor of love for our soldiers.
To contact For The Troops, you can e-mailthem or visit their website.