Shipping Care Packages to Soldiers During the Holidays
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In 2003, Julieann Najar’s son Dennis was deployed to Iraq, and when she went to Fort Riley, Kansas to say goodbye to him, she met another young man who didn’t have any family there to see him off. She asked the young man if she could “adopt” him and send him care packages while he was away, and soon adopted more soldiers under her wing. And so began A Soldier’s Wish List, a non-profit organization based out of Najar’s hometown of Granite City, Ill. that sends care packages to troops serving in combat zones.
Under Najar’s direction, A Soldier’s Wish List has grown to support more than 162,000 soldiers, with about 100,000 “adopters” from around the world from countries like Australia, Sweden and Germany. During the holiday season, charitable organizations like A Soldier’s Wish List and Books for Soldiers become especially busy with people who want to send care packages to soldiers overseas.
“This season, our goal is to send 6,000 Christmas gifts to soldiers,” Najar said. “We’re sending electric blankets and hand and feet warmers to a unit in Afghanistan. One medic has requested two space heaters, and his assistant medic requested slippers.”
When Najar receives a request from a new adopter to connect with a soldier, she makes sure she matches them up with a someone who lives in their city or state so that the soldier receives packages close to the place they call home. Adopters are sent a soldier’s name, birthday, a list of things he or she misses, and their email address so the adopter can get specific mailing directions from the soldier.
One of the things soldiers say they often miss is food from home. Najar once received a request from a soldier who said he missed slices of pizza from Imo’s, a popular pizza restaurant in St. Louis. Najar contacted the restaurant, and mailed his unit 125 pizzas. Another young man requested Mexican food, so Najar found a way to ship that to him too. Najar also fulfills wishes like throwing a baby shower for a soldier’s wife, or parties for soldiers when they return home.
It takes up to two weeks for soldiers to receive packages that are shipped to them, so when Najar sends food, she makes sure to properly freeze and package them in styrofoam coolers. She also ships along microwave ovens to make sure the soldiers have something to defrost the food in. A local chapter of the Knights of the Columbus helps her package the items, which during the holidays, will also include Christmas trees, ornaments and baked goods. For security reasons (the packages are being sent to soldiers in war zones), each shipment also requires a declaration form, which volunteers help Najar filled out.
“The post office knows me very well, so the process is pretty quick now,” Najar says. “But they still won’t give me a discount.” Last holiday, her shipping costs totaled more than $19,000.
When asked what item shows up on soldiers’ wish lists the most often, Najar says DVDs. “Especially How I Met Your Mother,” she adds. But soldiers also want to make sure their families are being cared for. “They don’t like the idea of missing their family members’ birthdays, so they’ll ask if we can send something to their family instead. So I’ll make sure those families receive gifts, but we address it from their father or mother overseas so it’s from them, and not me.”
Najar says many of the adopters tend to be mothers of soldiers, but also cub scouts, and other local organizations like the Daughters of the American Revolution. Najar’s work has also been recognized by the White House — in 2006, she was invited to meet President Bush.
“He was very nice,” Najar says. “I made sure we didn’t talk about politics. That’s another one of my rules when we’re working with soldiers: no politics. This isn’t about political agendas, this is about supporting our troops. This is a way to make a difference.”
If you’d like to get involved with A Soldier’s Wish List, you can contact Julieann Najar here.
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