A lot’s been going on in Florida the last few weeks. Much of the nation has been fascinated with the political maneuvering, sensing that the Sunshine State might once again choose our next president for us.
We may look back and decide that the people of Florida did, indeed, serve as the divining rod pointing to the candidate American voters would eventually select. We’ll see.
Meanwhile something else wonderfully important has been going on in Florida, and you need to know about it. I think we all should. It’s called Operation Shoebox.
It was the brainchild, the heart issue, of a very special lady named Mary Harper of Belleview, Florida. In 2003, having four children and a son-in-law all serving in Iraq at the same time, she started sending them shoeboxes full of goodies, magazines, toothpaste and candy, all kinds of stuff “from home.”
As her kids wrote to thank her, they told her that all too many of their comrades never got anything from home — in too many cases not so much as a letter!
In just a short time, Mary had recruited friends and neighbors in Belleview to pitch in, and then the whole operation moved to The Villages, an upscale retirement phenomenon in the center of the state. Now 300 regulars meet once a week, in two separate centers at the Villages, because no one place can accommodate all they’re doing.
One group sews and strings “ditty bags” to contain the goodies. Another works on card and letter writing; another on stationery items like crossword puzzles, letter paper, pens, envelopes, even games. There’s a hygiene area where ladies cram bags full of things like shampoo, baby wipes, soaps, and deodorants, all into separate plastic bags, lest something break and ruin other items.
There’s a candy table, a cereal and oatmeal table, and other tables where coffee, tea bags, lemonade, and sugar packets are also bagged. Scores and scores of things like these all wind up in 12 or 13 large tubs — from which the ladies pack the ditty bags, each with a hand-written card or letter, a beanie baby, a magazine, and all the other goodies.
This unpaid volunteer army of patriots is currently filling an average of 800 care packages a week, with a postage bill between $8,000 and $10.000 a month. They are now approaching their 300,000th package, and there are nearly 10,000 troops waiting for their packages. The yearly budget is around $250,000, with 51 percent of that being postage!
And the already noted items are not all. They also send over pallets of things requested by our troops, including toilet paper, clothing, blankets, pillows, coffee mugs, cameras, toys for Iraqi children, and much more.
They started with nothing, then graduated to a shoestring — utilizing shoeboxes and big, generous hearts. They rely solely on the donations of supporters. They hold various fundraising events almost every month, doing pancake breakfasts, Chinese auctions, yard sales, and raffles. They’re constantly coming up with new inventions and methods, anything that will help get the “love gifts” to America’s finest.
Her associates think of Mary as their “Mother Teresa”; she just opened a thrift store, and is running it day in and day out; she answers every letter she and the group receive from the troops. And her husband, equally committed, drives a semi truck across the country picking up donations of all kinds of goodies, sometimes driving three eight hour trips a week on his own time to gather items our troops can use, things the military just can’t provide.
This cadre of citizens, just homefolks, but moms and dads and neighbors who are determined to really support the troops, and not just mouth the words, deserve our support and our encouragement. And our financial help.
I really hope increasing numbers of us will check in (literally) at www.operationshoebox.com to support this noble cause. Some might want to call Mary herself, if she has time to take a really generous call, at the thrift store at The Villages.
We can’t get on a plane and fly out to Iraq; we can’t do many of the specific things Mary and Operation Shoebox are doing; but we can contribute, some small amounts and others large ones, and some corporate people can arrange to send items they produce or distribute, to ease the pressure on Mary and her friends. And to express the genuine gratitude we all should feel for the heroism of the young men and women defending our way of life on foreign and alien soil.
The people of Florida have decided elections at the ballot box. Now let’s join them in supporting and encouraging our valiant troops with a shoebox.
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