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The members of American Legion Virginia Post 39 are working to keep up military morale the best way they know how: with a care package from “MOM.”
The organization, which supports veterans in the greater Williamsburg area, launched “Operation: Military Overseas Morale,” or MOM, last February. It’s hoped the people of the Historic Triangle get involved in the group’s efforts.
Legionnaire Jeff Weisbacher first suggested sending the packages to active-duty troops.
“He said, ‘Hey, everybody likes to get a care package. Everyone likes to get something from Mom.’ And we said, let’s do it,” said Bill White, commander of the local Legion post.
Post 39 decided to put together care packages containing much-needed personal hygiene supplies and homey comforts for servicemen and women stationed overseas.
Post members Ben Machinist and his wife, Barbara, came up with the program’s clever acronym, taking to heart the idea that a package from one’s mother means the most when troops are far from home.
Launching the program
Though initially the group supplied the care packages itself, the scope of the project was expanded by soliciting donations from area residents.
“What we want is to get the public involved in supporting the troops,” White said.
Post 39 members established overseas contacts and came up with an official list of the most-needed items, then placed collection boxes at area businesses. The list of suggested donations they have compiled includes comfort foods like non-melting candies and popcorn, recreational items like crossword books and issues of Readers Digest, and a wide range of toiletries.
“We asked [the soldiers] ‘How can we help you?’ That’s how we came up with the list,” Machinist said. “And we get feedback about making changes and adjustments.”
Rocco’s Smokehouse Grill, at 207 Bypass Road, and Daily Donut, at 1425 Richmond Road, were the first businesses to welcome donation boxes. Since then, Jimmy’s Oven & Grill, at 7201 Richmond Road in Norge, has joined in. Post members collect items from the donation boxes weekly.
Though White says it’s been “a bit of a slow start” since the program began in April, he’s hopeful things will pick up as more people become aware of the donation boxes.
Belk lends a hand
In the past three months, Post 39 has sent 16 boxes worth of goodies to troops stationed in Afganistan, Pakistan and on the USS Bonhomme Richard in Japan.
While the public is helping to supply items for the care packages, Post 39 covers the packaging and shipping costs – and that adds up quickly, White said.
To defray those costs, the Post is participating in a charity sale run by the retailer Belk. The sale, which takes place every spring and fall, is the department store’s outreach effort to support local nonprofits. Participating groups are given the chance to sell tickets to the four-hour private sale, which features product markdowns of 20 to 70 percent storewide, according to the Belk website.
Post 39 was allowed to sell tickets to the sale for $5 each, keeping that money for “Operation: MOM.” With those proceeds and other private donations, Post 39 raised $2,300 to help defray the cost of shipping the care packages. “Every penny goes to buying packages,” Barbara Machinist said. “We have no overhead.”
Assembling a care package
Each care package includes a minimum of four bars because that’s an essential need the hot, crowded places where many troops serve. If a certain group of soldiers has a specific need for more of a particular item, that will be considered when assembling the boxes, White said, adding, “It’s just like you would pack your suitcase.”
Soldiers divide the items among themselves when packages arrive, with their commanders ensuring the packages are distributed fairly among their units.
“The boxes can be small in quantity but large in impact,” White said.
It all comes back to brightening the days of soldiers with the knowledge that someone at home is thinking of them.
“You can ask any person who has ever been deployed,” White said, “From boot camp on they had that experience of standing in the post line waiting for a package.
“We’re getting good feedback,” he added. “The troops love it. They are ecstatic.”
“That’s the objective that we wanted to reach,” Machinist added. “It gives us the thrill of knowing that we’re helping our active military in far-away places.”
Post 39 plans to continue sending the care packages indefinitely, hopefully to more military units in more locations. But the continued growth of the program is dependent upon interest and support from the public.
“The point is to involve the community — we want them to be part of this,” Machinist said. “This is our military. They are sacrificing their time and even their lives, and we need to try to reciprocate.”
The complete list of items needed for the “Operation: MOM” care packages is as follows:
- candy (no chocolate)
- granola bars
- beef jerky
- Pringles potato chips
- lip balm
- small containers of lotion
- travel size packages of tissues
- travel size personal wipes
- mixed nut packs or cans
- packages of dried fruits
- razors (men’s and women’s)
- juice boxes
- microwave popcorn
- tune packets
- crossword puzzles
- brain-teaser books
- sudoku books
- issues of Reader’s Digest
Do you own a local business that would be willing to host an “Operation: MOM” collection box? Contact Bill White at email@example.com.