Thrift Shop Sends Care Packages To Soldiers
January 23, 2013
REDSTONE ARENAL, Ala. -- "Sorry, it has taken me so long to get an email out to you. But we have been staying very busy and always trying to catch up on sleep in our free time. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you and everyone involved for sending me packages. It's nice to receive things from back home when you are so far from home."
"I just wanted to say thank you for the hats and everything you are doing for us back at home. I wish all of you the best. God bless and have a great day."
"I just wanted to drop you a note to thank you and your people for the care packages that you have sent to us over here in Afghanistan. The goodies were well received and appreciated. We have a place in one of the buildings that we put stuff for all to come by and get."
Such are the notes received by the staff and volunteers at the Thrift Shop, many from servicemembers they barely know. For the past five years, the Thrift Shop's Tips for Troops program has supplied deployed servicemembers with everything from toothpaste and protein bars to DVDs and magazines to crocheted beanies and military socks.
"Every note we receive makes what we do worth it," said military spouse Lynn Ransom, the Tips for Troops coordinator. "Some of the stories we hear from the troops can make you cry."
Every month, Ransom and a group of Thrift Shop volunteers work to pack and send just over 30 boxes to servicemembers in Afghanistan. With money donated through the shop's Tips for Troops program, volunteers are able to purchase needed items and to pay postage for the boxes, which comes to about $14 a box.
"The whole thing started when I began working here as a cashier. I am friendly with my customers and we talk. So, a lot of times, they would say 'Keep the change,'" Christel Judd said.
At first, she didn't know what to do with that change, except put it in the cash register so that it would eventually be counted among the revenue the shop uses to support community projects. But, as a military spouse, and with two sons deployed in service to the country, she soon came up with a better idea.
"We were getting $1, then $3, then sometimes $5 to $10 a day in change. I didn't want to keep it for myself -- like a tip -- because I'm not a waitress. I'm a cashier. So, we started using the change to pay for things for care packages for deployed troops," Judd said.
At the time, the Thrift Shop was getting several donations for Soldiers and postage was not being charged to send to troops in theater. So, the change was used to buy extra goodies for the care packages, such as snacks, magazines, books, DVDs, CDs and games.
But postage stopped being free some time ago and, even though, there are still donations, funds are always needed to buy things servicemembers ask for. So, Tips for Troops continues to collect customers' unwanted change for those expenses.
The program, though, is going even further these days by asking customers to bring in the small unopened bottles of soap, shampoo and lotion that they often pick up at hotels when they are traveling.
"Those small bottles are ideal for Soldiers in theater because they can just put them in their pockets and have them when they are out in the field," Ransom said.
The program is also selling padded envelopes, which were donated to the cause, to raise funds. Volunteers have also held a couple of bake sales to gain revenues for Tips for Troops.
"When you read the letters they send back to you, it makes you realize how much this means to the troops," Ransom said. "All the troops we are helping have an Alabama connection, whether it be themselves, or their grandparents or their in-laws.
"We also have troops giving our name to other troops. We especially want to give to Soldiers who don't get any packages from home or who are on their first deployments."
Volunteer Betty Reed makes the crocheted beanies that have been so popular with Soldiers working in the winter climate of Afghanistan. Kathy Lake, an Avon representative, has donated lip moisturizers.
"It can be really cold at night and they can wear the beanies under their helmets. And because it's such a harsh environment over there, lip balms and facial moisturizers are really popular," Ransom said.
Donations for Tips for Troops come not only in monetary form. Ransom receives donations of supplies from various organizations and companies. Groups such as the Housing Office on post, the Redstone Arsenal Community Women's Club, Downtown Rescue Mission, Hazel Green High School cheerleaders, Lions Club of Grissom High School, several Girl Scout troops and employee groups on the Arsenal donate items or help with packing them in boxes. Several local elementary classes often provide cards and letters to include in the care packages.
"We work to get the boxes out by the 15th of each month," Ransom said. "We are trying to do something special for each holiday. So, the January boxes will include Valentines, heart candy and other special things like that."
And then there are those extreme couponers on the Arsenal who use coupons to cut the cost of supplies.
"Because of their hard work, they can get things for us for very little money," Ransom said. "All the help we get and all the donations that come in are mainly through word of mouth. There are a lot of people who just want to help and support the Soldiers."
Everyone associated with the Thrift Shop is involved with Tips for Troops, including manager Sheila Torongeau. The shop provides the room needed by Ransom and volunteers to store and pack troop boxes.
"If any company or organization would like to sponsor some boxes for a couple of Soldiers, we really need help with the postage," Torongeau said. "The support we give Tips for Troops fits into our purpose as a Thrift Shop, and that is to first support the Soldier, then to support the Soldier family and then to support our community."
Often, those servicemembers who receive the Thrift Shop boxes don't keep the goodies to themselves.
"They will take what they need from the box and then share with the unit," Ransom said. "They will put the box in the common area so that everyone can get something. We've heard from older Soldiers that they let their younger Soldiers take from the boxes first. Those younger Soldiers are like their own kids to them and they really want to make sure they get to enjoy things from home."
That means a lot to Ransom, whose own son William served two tours in Iraq with the Army and is now in college; and to Judd, who has two sons who each did tours in Iraq. Steven Judd, who has 13 years of service, is a sergeant now with the California National Guard who has deployed to Kosovo and Iraq; and Christopher Judd, who has 12 years of service, is a sergeant on active duty at Fort Hood, Texas, who deployed twice to Iraq.
Besides being on the lookout for goodies to send to Soldiers, Ransom is also always eager to add new deployed servicemembers to her list.
"Anyone on Redstone who has a loved one deployed should let us know. We will send them a package," she said.
Editor's note: The Thrift Shop is in building 3209 on Hercules Road. Shopping hours are Tuesday and Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and the first Saturday of the month, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Consignments are taken Tuesday through Thursday, 9 to 11:45 a.m. Donations may be dropped off in the shop or in the large green donation bin located near the shop's back door.