By Pamela Dozois
Volunteers for Support the Troops recently gathered in the Parish Hall at Bethania Lutheran Church to assemble boxes filled with necessities, along with some special requests, for deployed troops stationed around the world. This includes the K9 patrol who are trained to search out bombs and do guard duty.
The group was also presented with two checks, one from the Santa Ynez Valley Opportunity Shop for $1,600 and one from the Santa Ynez Valley Elks Lodge for $750 to help defray the cost of supplies and postage.
Support the Troops was started in 2004 by Pat Sullivan, who had just retired from working at Vandenberg Air Force Base. She realized that the war in Iraq, at that time, was not going to be a quick one and as she had contacts at Vandenberg who let her know when a plane was departing, she put her plan into action, handing off “baggies of love” to each soldier or airman boarding the plane.
“I would take baggies filled with a few essentials and cookies out to the troops, for both the men and the women who were leaving for missions abroad. I don’t think the cookies made it to Iraq though,” said Sullivan, smiling. “I’d also give them a slip of paper with my email address. Word got around and now I receive about 200 requests a month. But we only send them to Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) or Combat Outposts (COPs). We also try to locate where any of our local military personnel are currently serving in order to send them a box from home as well. On average we send out between 120 and 150 boxes a month, but this Christmas we’re packing up 248 boxes which will be mailed out to the troops in time for Christmas.”
Sullivan explained, as she deftly placed various articles in a number of different boxes, that each soldier gets one box of necessities, which also includes their individual requests, primarily things they can put in their packs when they are on patrol or if they miss a meal, maybe something tasty they miss from home.
Jerky is high on the list of favorite things. The weather varies from extra hot to extra cold so the troops also need things like moisturizers and heavy socks. Also included are hand-knitted helmet inserts and scarves of 100 percent wool, which were knitted by women here in the Santa Ynez Valley. Dentist offices send cases of toothpaste, hotels offer toiletries, and volunteers shop for the best deals on the hundreds of other items they pack each month.
A “missing man table,” also known as a fallen comrade table, was set at the front door in honor of fallen, missing or imprisoned military service members. Each article on the table, a white cloth, a single red rose, a yellow ribbon, a slice of lemon, a pinch of salt, a lighted candle, the Bible, an inverted glass and an empty chair all have a specific meaning.
“For many years the group has had transient ‘homes’ with various storage situations. Bethania has been such a blessing, offering the Parish Hall for two days a month, one day to make the boxes and one day to pack them and in addition allowing the group to have a storage container in the parking lot,” said Beth DuVall, volunteer and publicity chairperson.
“The Santa Ynez Valley Elks have targeted Support the Troops for several years with grants obtained through the Elks National Foundation. They have underwritten postage costs, and negotiated discounts with Shalhoobs for a highly requested item —jerky. KONG offers a phenomenal discount on imperfect dog toys for nonprofits like Support the Troops, so we have lots of toys to send those units. We love the K9 troops too! Pat Sullivan as well as Caro Stinson have been honored as the Elks Lodge’s ‘Citizens of the Year’ primarily for their work with this organization,” said DuVall, who is also a member of the Santa Ynez Valley Elks.
“We are a group of volunteers, none of us gets paid,” said Sullivan. “All the money raised goes to cover the supplies and postage. Our USPS postal fee alone for this year’s Christmas packages is $4,712. Each box costs $19 to ship. We rely totally on grants from The Wood- Claeyssens Foundation, and donations from the Santa Ynez Valley Elks Club, the Santa Ynez Valley Opportunity Shop and from generous individuals throughout the valley.
Anyone wishing to contribute to Support the Troops can send checks made out to: We Support the Troops, PO Box 915, Santa Ynez, CA 93460. All donations are tax deductible.
For more information, call 805-688-8404.