Operation American Soldier mobilizes the power of volunteers and the generosity of individual and corporate donors to boost the morale of deployed US troops by sending individual care packages from home. Stop & Shop has supported this organization through the Community Bag Program.
Tell us about Operation American Soldier.
Back in 2003, my stepdaughter found herself deployed very suddenly. We sent her a box of goodies that we thought she could use with a note saying that if anybody needed anything, just to let us know. We thought this was going to be a very short-term thing! But here we are 20 years and hundreds of thousands of boxes later, we’re still shipping to our troops. We send boxes to any deployed American troops, wherever they are deployed outside of the United States.
…here we are 20 years and hundreds of thousands of boxes later, we’re still shipping to our troops.
It’s something that we and all our volunteers love. We are a totally volunteer organization, and we have very low, if any, overhead. Any funds we receive go to postage, products and sometimes pizza to feed our volunteers. That’s it, that’s our total expense.
We’re housed at the Pvt. Charles J. Shutt Marine Corps League in Watertown, Mass. They took us in 13 years ago and have not charged us a dime.
What services do you provide to the community?
Imagine you find yourself away from home, out of the country, probably for the first time. You could be anywhere from 18 to about 40+ years old. What are you missing? You’re missing Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs, socks, comfort items, snacks and so many different things.
For example, air fresheners are popular. When our sons deployed, we would get requests for those. Think about five to six soldiers in one vehicle on a mission for days; there’s no place to pull over and shower. So those air fresheners go a long way. We also ship a ton of baby wipes for the same reason. There are outposts in places like Kuwait where they don’t have regular deliveries of anything. We ship a lot of foot powder. We ship a lot of fun snacks and protein bars. All kinds of things that you can find in the grocery store.
Where would we be without our troops? They’re keeping us free.
Getting 125-150 boxes out to our troops takes several pickup trucks full of goods. How often we ship is a function of price and product.
We have one primary shopper who is on our board, and she does extreme couponing. She shops for us five days a week, sometimes seven, and saves us an absolute fortune. All our board members are incredibly dedicated to ensuring that we have what we need and that our stock is rotated. We don’t ship old products to our troops. They deserve the best. They’re working really hard for us and deserve first-class, hopefully, domestic-made products and food.
Where would we be without our troops? They’re keeping us free. We need to support them because they wrote a blank check to this country. And we’re going to make sure that we make good on our end.
We also ensure each box includes a handwritten note from the volunteer who packed it. Recently, a woman came to volunteer and wrote notes to put in the boxes. I told her to add her email or return address because somebody might write back. She called me about two weeks later and said I can’t believe I got an email! She had received an email from the young female soldier who opened the box, and discovered she lived in the same hometown! They are now very good email friends. Isn’t that phenomenal? A connection was made because somebody took the time to write a note, and somebody took the time to pack a box.
Many organizations like ours shut down when the post office discontinued flat-rate military boxes this past January with very short notice. We came together and said, we’re not going to do that. We can’t do that. Additionally, for the first time, our military is paying postage to send letters back home.
What sets Operation American Soldier apart from other nonprofits in your community?
My husband and I founded this organization. We’re a military family. He’s a veteran; both our sons are veterans; so are my daughter-in-law, my stepdaughter, her husband and some of the grandkids.
As I mentioned, no one gets paid. Our shopper doesn’t even get a tank of gas! All our volunteers believe in our mission and appreciate how important it is.
We also work with a lot of military families. They contact us and say they have a deployed family member and ask if we will send a box. My response is come on in and pack it!
Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.
A staff sergeant contacted us when the Iraq war was going strong. He had a guy in his unit who hadn’t received anything for the six months that they had been there. It may be hard to believe, but some soldiers get no letters or packages.
A soldier might be just out of the foster care system and have no one to send them a package. When foster kids age out, where do they go? They can go to a shelter or the streets or join the military because they’re just out of high school. It can be a very lonely time.
It may be hard to believe, but some soldiers get no letters or packages.
My husband had gone to the Christmas Tree Store and found some ukuleles, and we bought the whole pallet. They were small enough to fit them in like toys in boxes. A guy from Hawaii got one of those boxes, came to his sergeant with tears in his eyes and said, “I miss home.” Sending him this toy had made all the difference.
What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?
When our youngest son Nick was deployed, he was on the base when a girl he had never met before, who was part of his unit, came running up to him crying and threw her arms around him. She said I just got a box from your family and haven’t had anything from anybody!
At the time, he called us on Skype, saying, “I can’t believe that somebody who didn’t even know who I was found me and put it all together. And went out of her way to do it, too.”
We have veterans, especially from the Vietnam era, come in and get very emotional as they are packing boxes. They’ve all been through it and know how much it means to receive a random box filled with love and a letter.
What do you want people to know about Operation American Soldier?
This organization doesn’t run automatically. We’re not federally funded. We raise all our donations, whether product or financial. If you shop at the grocery stores, pick up some items and drop them off here in Watertown. We would love donations of canned goods, particularly canned fruit and things like peanut butter and jelly. There’s a list on our website.
Write a note, write me some letters and I’ll put them in the boxes. We will absolutely add them, and who knows, the recipient may end up being your neighbor, like the woman I spoke of earlier.
How are you using the funds raised from the Stop & Shop Community Bag Program?
Everything raised goes for postage and products. The retail price for everything we put into one box ranges from $30 to $45. Then there’s the $2.60 price of the box itself, and postage for each box is $10. We shipped 1,685 boxes last year, and with postage rates, we spent $25,000. We’re as frugal as possible but don’t want to cut corners on what we send to the troops.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
If readers know of any American troops(s) deployed, register them at our website. We will make sure they get a box. We want to serve as many as we can, and they don’t need to be from Massachusetts. We serve all troops that reach out to us.
Published December 6, 2023.