'Boxes for Soldiers' hopes to surpass last year's record

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Region - posted Tue., Nov. 15, 2011
Last year the assembly line was a big success during the packing event for 'Boxes for Soldiers.' File photo by Melanie Savage.
Last year the assembly line was a big success during the packing event for 'Boxes for Soldiers.' File photo by Melanie Savage.

Last year’s local effort to spread some Christmas cheer among deployed service personnel was such a success that organizers are hoping for an even better response this year. “Boxes for Soldiers” was intended to collect, pack and ship 100 boxes of small necessities, luxuries and treats to military troops stationed in Afghanistan for Christmas 2010. Instead, said project organizer Brian Geer, more than 300 such boxes went out.

“We actually received letters back from soldiers saying how much they appreciated receiving the items we sent,” Geer said. Some of the notes were written on note cards that had been included in the boxes, he said.

This year’s project will culminate on Dec. 10 at the Wauregan Hotel, 25 Broadway in Norwich, from 2 p.m. “till all packed.” Volunteers to help put together personalized boxes for individual servicemen and women are welcome to drop in and lend a hand.

Prior to the pack-up date, though, items for the packages are being collected in boxes placed around the city. Among the collection sites are the Wauregan, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday; at the Norwich City Planning and Zoning Office, 23 Union St., Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; and at CL Services in Canterbury.

Suggested items include such foodstuffs as beef jerky, microwaveable soups and stews, candies, cookies, granola bars, Power Bars, trail mix, cheese-and-cracker packs, one-pound bags of coffee and powdered drink mixes. Among the most-needed toiletries are socks, lip balm, hand gel, baby powder, foot powder, eye drops, deodorant, baby lotion, cotton swabs, and tissues, along with dental care items. Also welcome are iTunes cards and books.

Handmade cards from students were “a great hit last year,” said Geer. “What [the service members] really enjoyed was the letters and cards. They know we’re thinking about them, that they’re not forgotten.”

Geer said that each box is individualized. “Every service member we receive a name for receives an individualized box,” he said. “A lot of the stuff is pretty generic. But if we receive a female name, we try to dedicate the contents of that box to a female.”

The organization is also accepting monetary donations to help defray the cost of shipping. Towards that end, volunteers will be selling slices of pizza and sodas on Friday, Dec. 2, at the Wauregan. The pizza is being donated by Mediterranean Express, a restaurant located at the Wauregan, and soda will be donated by Pepsi. All proceeds from the sale will be used to help pay shipping costs, Geer said. Each box costs $12.95 to ship.

This year the project also has a website: www.boxesforsoldiers.com. The site carries an updated list of recommended items to donate, along with other information.

Last year’s project was inspired by Geer’s friends, Greg and Ann Arpin, whose son Jake was serving in the Air Force in Afghanistan. When Jake mentioned to his parents that many members of his combat unit never receive “care packages” from home, the Arpins teamed up with Geer to remedy the situation. Geer had previously worked on a similar project called "Operation American Soldier," through his workplace.

This year the project will generate a whole new list of recipients, as some of the deployed forces may have returned home since last Christmas, Geer said.

For more information on how to help, e-mail info@boxesforsoldiers.com.

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