Volunteers with a Northern Virginia military-support group gather twice a month to fill care packages for troops serving overseas.
“One of our primary focuses for the past few years has been sending care packages to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Sharon Rainey, founder of the group, Neighbors International Foundation. “To date, we have sent
more than 7,000 packages and more than 26,000 letters of support.”
Those packages create strong connections between the senders and the recipients and often result in thank you letters, Rainey said. Those small items are all the proof the volunteers need to know they're touching real lives.
“One chaplain would write us and tell us who got each item and why,” she said. “For instance, the guys who burn sensitive documents got the bag of marshmallows so they could roast them while burning the documents.”
The connection that develops extends beyond the troops, however.
One of the packages the foundation sent contained small stuffed animals for the recipients to share with local Iraqi children. “Animal drops” in several remote locations brought smiles to the faces of the local children. Better yet, the toys take the servicemembers a step closer to winning the kids' loyalty, Rainey said.
Another Soldier wrote the foundation about handing out the same type of small stuffed toys in the local community. “The next day they were driving their tanks through the town and one little girl sat in the road and would not move,” Rainey recounted from the Soldier's letter.
Recognizing the girl, the Soldier approached her to find she was holding the toy she'd received the day before.
“(She) moved so he could see that she was next to a (roadside bomb),” Rainey said. “She saved their lives because he offered a gift of friendship the day before.
“We are making a difference,” she said.
The foundation also helped stock a school with supplies after the military rebuilt it, Rainey said.
Neighbors International Foundation is a new supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.
The foundation's mission extends beyond supporting the military, however. It provides funds and volunteer services to support local charitable, educational, religious, public safety and similar organizations that serve the surrounding neighborhoods and communities, Rainey said.