By Linda Smith and Kelly Wilkerson
Toothpaste and hand warmers. White socks and instant oatmeal.
For eight years now, volunteers from Yolo Military Families have lovingly packed boxes for deployed troops. Davis resident Cindy Schulze started it all in 2004, gathering with other parents at Baker’s Square restaurant for support and to send boxes to sons and daughters sent overseas.
But, as the wars continued in Afghanistan and Iraq, the addresses kept coming. Most often, it was a young man or woman with a Yolo County connection. But sometimes we got the address from a soldier or a Marine who told us, “This guy never gets mail. Can you send him something?”
A deck of cards and a dust mask. A granola bar and a can of tuna.
The job got too big for a small group, so we turned to the community. Offices, government agencies, schools and churches put out drop-off boxes. The Graduate and SaveMart allowed us to hold fundraisers inside and outside their doors, and the Davis Sunset Rotary Club stood behind grills at benefit dinners. Black Bear Diner let us camp out in its back room to plan the next activity.
Strangers wrote checks to pay for mailing costs. Birch Lane Elementary School student Sam Sands wheeled his wagon through his neighborhood for four years in a row to collect supplies. Davis post office staff members patiently walked us through the mailing process again and again, then made it personal by donating money out of their own pockets.
Sometimes we had special requests. A Medivac unit said it really needed soap and batteries. Troops deployed in areas so remote that their boxes were dropped off by helicopter needed items as basic as toothbrushes.
Community donations sent what they needed.
Instant oatmeal and a detective novel. Sunscreen and shaving cream.
The packing process is now a logistical marvel, with small items pre-packed in Ziploc bags and a volunteer behind each station. Military families, football players, Scouts, members of the UC Davis ROTC and others make an efficient assembly line that packs each box to the top with essentials and tiny luxuries.
Some of the ROTC students who’ve packed with us in the past are now on our holiday mailing list. Other boxes are headed for the hospital at Bagram Air Base and the transit center in Kyrgyzstan, the last stop before Afghanistan.
Some boxes are kept back because experience has taught us that, over the next month, families will contact us with the names of their newly deployed sons, daughters, grandchildren, roommates and colleagues.
And the process starts all over again in May as we prepare for a second round of boxes in honor of Armed Forces Day.
Ramen noodles and a notebook. Corn nuts and a thank-you card from a child.
Military families are strong, but they appreciate knowing they live in a community that supports its soldiers. Whether we know someone in the service or not, Davis residents know that it’s “our kids” who are in harm’s way, and who need to hear from home.
Yolo Military Families receives thank-you notes from two-star generals all the way down to a Marine from Davis who wrote, “It’s nice to still be remembered.” And, yet, when we thank community members for making this all possible, what we hear most often is, “Thank you for letting me help, for letting me be a part of this.”
With the war in Afghanistan scheduled to end in 2014, the mission of Yolo Military Families will change, but it will not end. This year, we’ll be taking a trunkload of supplies and food to the Fisher House at Travis Air Base, a place where the families of wounded warriors live until their soldier is well enough to return home.
The needs won’t end, and we know we can count on Davis to help us meet them. Thank you, Davis, for making our kids your kids.
— Linda Smith has been a part of Yolo Military Families since 2006. Her son Jason, a Davis High graduate, served two combat deployments. Kelly Wilkerson is a recent volunteer with the organization. Her son Joe Sturla, also a Davis High graduate, served one combat deployment.