Boxes expected to reach troops in remote areas of Afghanistan in time for the holidays
By Tammy Roberts
Senior staff writer
Each day, most Americans have the luxury of waking up in a comfy bed, drinking a cup of hot coffee and enjoying a cool shower.
Before starting their day, they apply various beauty and hygiene products, have time to read the morning newspaper and savor a healthy, filling breakfast.
But on the other side of the world, many U.S. military troops are lucky to catch an hour of sleep in their makeshift tents, while stationed in remote and isolated areas of Afghanistan.
These soldiers go weeks without access to running water and must survive on the few items they carry in their backpacks, while constantly changing locations.
"It's these troops who can benefit from this project the most," said Melbourne resident Gloria Grant. "These men and women are fighting every day to protect us. They can use any and all the help we can give them."
A native of Waveland, Miss., Ms. Grant moved to the Space Coast after her 120-year old, antebellum-style home was completely destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.
Since 2005, she has been extremely active in the community outreach programs at St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Indialantic, primarily with the Lydia Circle women's group.
With support and assistance from the group, Ms. Grant initiated a military effort through www.anysoldier.com that provided 168 large flat-rate boxes full of hygiene products, snacks, magazines, DVDs and a variety of other items to troops in Afghanistan last year, just in time for the Christmas holiday.
And this year, she's at it again.
"The effort has actually been continuous since our first shipment," Ms. Grant said. "After our first Christmas mailing, we received enough donations to do a January mailing and followed up with an Easter mailing and a summer mailing. Now, we're preparing for our second Christmas shipment."
The number of care packages the church has mailed out has far exceeded Ms. Grant's original goal of 100 boxes, as its members are expecting to fill and send their 400th box this fall.
"This is my Christmas," Ms. Grant said. "In my family, we put up a Christmas tree, but there are never any presents under it. Instead, we use the money for whatever we would have bought for one another to fill as many boxes as we can. It's tough to be away from home at any time, but the holidays are especially difficult for these kids."
Throughout the year, Ms. Grant receives numerous letters and emails from various troops, thanking the church for its generous efforts. Earlier this year, four members of the U.S. National Guard even visited St. Marks as a way to personally show their gratitude.
Staff Sgt. Morton of West Melbourne, 33, served two tours in Afghanistan, most recently as a logistics supply sergeant in the city of Bagram.
"Being away from family is always the hardest part," he said back in February, addressing a group of the church's members. "So when we receive these care packages, it provides us with a little bit of home and makes us seem that much closer."
Those words of gratitude are what, Ms. Grant said, inspire she and her fellow volunteers to continue their efforts.
"My goal is for even more people to feel that same sense of joy," she said.
As a way to spread word of the project, Ms. Grant devoted two weeks last year to visiting many of the churches in Brevard County, in the hope that other organizations would choose to "adopt" their own military units to send supplies to.
Her tireless efforts paid off.
This year, four additional churches - Holy Apostles Episcopal Church in Satellite Beach, Lutheran Church of The Redeemer in Melbourne, St. Paul Lutheran Church in Melbourne and Satellite Beach United Methodist Church - have jumped on board with the project and have already mailed out several shipments of boxes to various troops in Afghanistan.
"Gloria showed up at our church one day and presented us with an opportunity we could not refuse," said Janet Jodoin, a 20-year member of St. Paul Lutheran Church. "We've sent 14 boxes so far and are still filling more."
Gloria Mitchell, a longtime member of Satellite Beach United Methodist, has participated in a similar military project at her church, alongside her husband, Jewell, since 2007. But this year, they chose to reach out to even more military members through the Any Soldier website.
"We're right here so close to Patrick Air Force Base, and we realized we need to be doing as much as we can to help our troops," Mrs. Mitchell said.
Hazel Morrison, a member of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, said that in addition to community donations, her congregation uses the money raised during its holiday bazaar to help fund the project.
She is also one of several parishioners at her church who have sewn a total of 100 Christmas stockings filled with sweets, lip balm and other goodies, to add to their holiday shipment of boxes.
Representatives from each of the five churches gathered at Holy Apostles in Satellite Beach last week to sort through items and prepare many of the care packages for shipping.
"This effort is something our entire congregation has embraced," said Holy Apostles and Sarah's Circle member, Karen Coleman. "I put out some generic lists of items in the spring, and the donations have just been pouring in. It's allowed us to actually adopt two units for the holidays."
While the military project at St. Mark's keeps Ms. Grant busy year round, she is always more than willing to speak with other churches about the cause and help them get started.
"This isn't just a Christmas project; this is something we do year round," she said. "So, I'm always eager to help, regardless of the time of year. Whether it's a church, school or even a family, there are different size units, (ranging) from three members to 175, so anyone can take part."
St. Mark's plans to send its Christmas shipment by the first week of November. The average cost to fill one box is $30 at a local dollar store, including shipping, which is currently $12.95 per box, Ms. Grant said.
"I wish we didn't have to do this project," she said. "I'd be happy putting an end to it right now and giving the rest of the items to charity. But until all of our troops come home, we're going to do what we can to make their time there that much easier."
Items, as well as monetary donations, with checks marked for the military fund, can be dropped off at the front office of any of the participating churches.
To find out more about adopting a military unit or to schedule a pick-up of donations, call Gloria Grant at (321) 259-6229.
Drop-off locations are:
. St. Mark's Methodist Church, 2030 N. Highway A1A, Indialantic.
. Satellite Beach United Methodist Church, 450 Lee Ave., Satellite Bach.
. Holy Apostles Episcopal Church, 505 Grant Ave., Satellite Beach.
. Lutheran Church of The Redeemer, 12 E. Ave. A, Melbourne.
. St. Paul Lutheran Church, 105 W. Hibiscus Blvd., Melbourne.
Some suggested items for the Military Boxes project:
Reusable drink containers
long-distance phone cards
Little Debbie snack cakes
inflatable pillows/pillow cases
cookies in individual packets
canned food items (Vienna sausage, beans and franks)
DVD movies and magazines for men and women
Ramen noodles/Macaroni & Cheese
cereal bars/granola bars
disposable shower towels
soup mix, hot cocoa mix
canned air for cleaning electronics
stress-relief squeeze balls
boot socks in green and white
word puzzle books
Icy hot patches, foot massagers
paper plates/ microwavable plates, bowls
Items not accepted are chocolate, weapons or home-cooked foods, illegal copies of materials)