Operation America Cares
I had known about the monthly packing events for a few years. I meant to get around to it, time after time, but never had. Then my great-nephew joined the marines in late June, and suddenly what they were doing jumped further to the top of my list. I put it on my calendar, made a few phone calls, and showed up.
When I spoke to Linda Milimaki she told me to come about 8:45. I pulled up at 8:50, because, once again, I had pulled away from my house without my cell phone, and needed to go back for it. When I pulled up to the beautiful Escondido neighborhood that Linda lives in, I saw a flurry of activity. Cars were lined up and down the street, the driveway was filled with tables, and her 3 car garage was wall to wall tables and people in an “assembly line” filling up boxes.
The organization I had come to help on that Saturday morning is Operation America Cares. The organization was the brain-child of two sisters who found out that many of our troops never receive a care package or mail from home. They wanted to change that by providing a little ray of sunshine into the lives of some of those troops.
The Start of Something Great
They packed their first 35 boxes for Christmas in 2008. Since then there have been over 24,000 boxes send out of Linda’s home, with the help of donations and monthly packing “parties.”
I was first introduced to this endeavor through my local Realtor Caravan meetings a few years ago. Every quarter we choose a local charity, and collect weekly donations. At the end of the quarter a check is presented to the chosen charity. After hearing about Operation America Cares, I invited one of their volunteers, Cheryl Sutcliff, a local lender I know and trust in our community to come and speak to my Kiwanis club. I was president of the club, and wanted my members to know about the need.
When Cheryl stood in front of our group with one of the boxes filled with the items sent off monthly, I felt like I was watching Mary Poppins pull things out of her magical carpetbag! I couldn’t believe how many goodies were stuffed into that small “Priority Mail” cardboard box! Each and every item had been well thought out for the wants and needs of a young military hero. There wasn’t one inch of wasted space, and nothing that wouldn’t be appreciated and enjoyed, by at least one young man, and most likely shared among a number of them!
One of the things I found most fascinating about the boxes was the fact that they send a little zip-lock sandwich bag filled with some spices. One of them is taco seasoning from Del Taco. It turns out, as I was told that the MRE meals lack flavor, so the taco-seasoning is a HUGE hit with the young men! When told that their hot sauce was the one the young men preferred the most, the Del Taco at 9822 Magnolia Avenue in Santee, CA volunteered to donate enough to be sent off every month! Kudos to them for repeatedly stepping up to the plate for our military!
When I pulled up to Linda’s Escondido home that Saturday, it was a bee-hive of activity! I couldn’t believe how much was already happening by the time I arrived. One of the first things Linda did was to pray for the people working and for the military who would be receiving the boxes. She then read a few letters that had been received from some of the recipients of the boxes. You would have thought that the boxes held the greatest treasures in the universe when you heard the heartfelt thanks for them! It brought tears to my eyes to think that the simple little “shoebox” size boxes would bring such joy!
I approached one of the women working, who seemed to be knowledgeable about the procedures, and she gave me a brief “assembly line” walk through, and set me to filling up boxes. I went through the assembly line process and filled a few of the boxes. It was then time to “repack” the boxes, and I was instructed in that. Because there are toiletry items, and food items, they are separated into 2 different zip lock bags, so that if something should leak, everything isn’t ruined. There is a real science to packing the boxes so everything gets there safely, usable and fitting in the box. Everything is boxed in a Priority Mail box, which is $16.75 for all you can fit in the box, no matter what the weight. And fit it in, they do! Toilet paper, socks, a book, a magazine, numerous snacks, both salty and sweet, talcum powder, eye drops, toothpaste and toothbrush, lip balm, crossword puzzles and other assorted items fill the boxes to the brim! Every box also gets a hand written note, and often pictures drawn by children.
After I had helped fill a number of boxes it was mentioned that they were very short with hand written notes this month, so I went into the house to sit down and write out some cards to our Heroes! This was right up my alley! I LOVE writing letters, notes and cards! When I was younger and moved away from home, I used to hand-write up to 60 letters a week to friends and family! (Obviously, that was Pre-email and Facebook days! I still miss handwritten letters updating us on what our loved ones are doing!)
I had the pleasure of sitting at the kitchen table in Linda’s house and write out notes with a few other volunteers. The time flew by, and before I knew it, packing was done, and it was time for a photo with all of the packaged boxes and the volunteers from the day.
The boxes go to Military in all four branches who typically don’t ever get any care packages from home. Linda works closely with the Family Readiness officer at Camp Pendleton, and he gives her names and addresses of chaplains and commanding officers who have requested boxes for their men in the field.
The Starfish Story
What two sisters put in motion 10 years ago is awe inspiring! I’m so glad to have been a part of it! What I can’t help but think though is HOW MANY MORE young marines could use one of these packages each month! Probably, literally THOUSANDS! Please don’t misunderstand and think that I am in ANY way putting down Operation America Cares. Heavens NO! What I’m saying though is that we could use 50, 100, 500 more “chapters” of this charity across the country, doing what is being done here for our young military heroes!
It makes me think of the Starfish story. There are a few versions of it, but the gist of them are all the same. The story goes something like this……..A little boy is walking along the beach, and thousands of starfish are washed up on the shore, going to die. He leans over as he walks along, and continues to throw in one starfish after another. He is walking with his grandpa who says to him, “Why bother? You can’t make a difference, with all of these starfish dying on the beach.” The little boy’s response is “It makes a difference to this one.”
That’s what Operation America Cares is all about. It’s making a difference to that marine who receives a package. Hopefully, that package puts a smile on his or her face, knowing that someone they don’t even know has thought about them, and making their day better as they serve our country. It is a very small drop in the bucket, but it is a drop that wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for this amazing organization!
A Job Well Done!
The packing is down to such an efficient routine that it was over quickly! When we were finished, Linda took a photo of that months’ volunteers behind the 150 boxes we had prepared to be shipped off. It takes a number of vehicles to get the boxes to the post office, so I volunteered to fill my car up. I wanted to see the process “start to finish” so to speak. One van and two cars filled to the brim, and off we went to get the boxes on their way to our well deserving military in the field.
You Can Help Too!
You may wonder how you could help this worthwhile cause. Go to their website. Make a donation, if you can to c,over postage, or to purchase items they may be short of one month. Perhaps, think of starting a similar organization in your area. I don’t think we could possibly over saturate the “market” of needy Marines! If you are in the local area, purchase some of the supplies listed below,and get them to Linda for future packing dates. Write some notes to marines to be included in future boxes. Arrange to come and help pack boxes one day. Whatever you do to be a part of the this endeavor, you’ll be blessed by being a part of it, I’m sure!
Please, go and check out the website, and do what you can to help! http://OperationAmericaCares.org
What’s In a Box?
ITEMS INCLUDED IN THE CARE PACKAGES
(MOST OF THESE CAN BE PURCHASED AT A DOLLAR STORE!!)
- $$ for postage (currently $16.75 per care package)
- Socks crew or athletic (no shorties please)
- Eye drops (any brand) The wind, sun and desert sand hurt their eyes!
- Triple anti-biotic ointment/Neosporin or other anti-biotic cream w/pain reliever
- Advil/ibuprofen/generic pain relievers
- Insect repellent – no aerosol spray cans
- Sun screen – no aerosol spray cans
- Full sized baby wipes/body wipes (80 count or larger)
- Hand santizer – individual size
- Chap sticks
- Kleenex – travel size
- Gold Body Powder (available at the Dollar Tree for $1.00 each)
- Disposable razors
- Shaving gel – no aerosol cans
- Toothbrushes/dental floss
- Toothpaste – regular size tubes
- Toiletries from your hotel stays
- Soap – any size
- Gum – individual packs
- Mints – individual packs
- Single serve drink sleeves – for adding to bottles of water
- Single serve coffee sleeves – such as Starbucks VIA
- Top Ramen – no cup of soup (to big for care packages)
- Canned soups, stews, fruit
- Jerky – all flavors
- Energy bars and snack bars
- Nuts – individual bags or small cans
- Sunflower seeds – individual packs
- Dum dums, tootsie roll pops and hard candy. Must be individually wrapped
- M&M – individual bags ( they melt in your mouth, not in Afghanistan)
- Cookies – individual packs
- Condiments – small giveaways from fast food restaurants and such – any kind!!!
- Peanut butter/jam – individual servings
- Crossword books/word game books/travel games
- Magazines – no older than 3 months – please focus on men or social mags such as People
- Paperback books – no romance novels please
- DVDs – can be recycled
- Blank paper, envelopes/pens – for them to write home
- Thank you notes – written from us to them! If you include your name and address, you may get a letter!
- Pictures and notes from kids
- Zip lock bags – gallon, quart or snack size
Feel free to contact Operation America Cares directly, or get your donations to me and I will be happy to put them in Linda’s hands when I go over to volunteer for the next “packing party!”