VFW Post 7659 sends care packages to troops

By Corey AmEnde - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Fri., Jan. 17, 2014
Paula Petersen helps prepare a box of Girl Scout cookies to be shipped to the troops.  Photos by Corey AmEnde.
Paula Petersen helps prepare a box of Girl Scout cookies to be shipped to the troops. Photos by Corey AmEnde.

It all started very simply, recalled Frank Forrest. A few families who had children serving overseas in the military got together to make up care packages. Then they decided to hold a cookie exchange and to invite the public to bring in cookies, but instead of exchanging them, they put the cookies into tins to ship to their kids, Forrest said.

“Plus by then, my daughter had gotten so much stuff from me she said, ‘Dad, here’s some other names, send something to these guys, they’re not getting any packages.’” And from there the numbers grew from four or five names to 10 and 15 names.

“We didn’t have enough boxes, enough tins,” said Forrest. A local paper picked up on the story and ran a piece on the cookie event, which resulted in people coming from all over the state with cookies. “We were not prepared,” Forrest recalled.

Ten years later, Forrest and a dedicated group of volunteers continue to ship out care packages once a month to our troops stationed all over the world. Forrest, commander of the Glastonbury VFW, PFAU-SMYK Post 7659, runs the “Support or Troops,” collection and packing event which is sponsored by his VFW post and the Post 7659 Ladies’ Auxiliary. 

The group gathers once a month at South Congregational Church on Forbes Street in East Hartford to collect, sort and package care items for the troops.  The VFW collects personal care items such as socks, toothpaste, toothbrushes and sunscreen.  They also collect food items including snack foods like jerky, protein and nutrition bars, seeds and nuts.

They also ship Girl Scout cookies that people can donate when making their personal orders. Volunteers are also needed to write letters of support and make cards and drawings. These letters and drawings are included in the care packages.

Forrest said he ships an average of 25 boxes overseas a month, at a cost of around $600 which is funded by donations.  The packages take about two weeks to arrive at their destinations which include military locations all over the world including Afghanistan, South Africa and Honduras. Forrest said most of the packages are sent to Afghanistan.

“I was oversees, I know how important it is for morale,” said Forrest. 

The packing events start at noon and Forrest requests that all donations are dropped off by 1 p.m.  Lunch is served after the packing is completed. Everyone is invited and there is no charge. Forrest said sometimes he has a musician playing to provide entertainment for the volunteers as they sort and pack.

Paula Petersen from The Grange in Manchester attended the most recent packing event on Saturday, Jan. 11, with her nephew.  Peterson said she enjoys helping Forrest with the event because there are a lot of amenities, “that we take for granted here.”
“I’m a very, very giving person and where somebody needs help, that’s where I’m at,” said Petersen.  “It’s the giving end of it.”

Madelyn Driscoll and Brianna Coughlin, both East Hartford residents and seventh-graders at Metropolitan Learning Center in Bloomfield, volunteered at the event as well. Coughlin said they worked for about an hour and a half sorting items and packing boxes.  Coughlin helped sort the cards and Driscoll helped organize the Girl Scout cookies and personal care items for the troops.

“It’s good to help people who help us keep our freedom,” said Coughlin. “My dad was in the Air Force; we had a few people in my family who have served, so it kind of brings family to us, for me.”

Driscoll said she learned not to take everyday items for granted. “What you have is a gift because the troops don’t have some things like food or toothbrushes,” said Driscoll.

The next monthly packing event is scheduled for Feb. 2.  Forrest said the February collection is the only one they don’t ask for items to send because they supply Girl Scout cookies. However, Forrest is looking for volunteers to make handmade Valentine cards.  They are also adding dental supplies to fill in any spaces in the boxes.

For more information, contact Forrest at 860-690-2845 or e-mail him at glastonburyvfw@aol.com.  Donations can be sent to VFW Post 7659, c/o Frank Forrest, 165 Maple St., East Hartford, CT 06118.

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