By Christine Bryant
They may be boxes of everyday items, but to the service men and women who open them, they’re a little taste of home.
That’s why each year, a group of volunteers get together to build hundreds of packages that are then sent overseas to deployed soldiers, always in memory of local service men and women who never made it home.
Buckeye Military Families, the Ohio chapter of Semper Fi Sisters, is made up of individuals with a loved one serving or who have served in any branch of the military.
“Our mission is to support the families of those currently serving, the service members themselves and Ohio veterans,” said Brenda Bishop Young, president of the local chapter and a board member at large for Semper Fi Sisters.
Annual projects include putting together welcome baskets for female residents of the two Fisher Houses at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and in Cincinnati, as well as making and collecting patriotic lap blankets that are given to veterans returning from Honor Flight trips to Washington, D.C.
The organization also works on several other projects throughout the year as well, from filling baskets with spa-type items for the female caregivers of the wounded at Walter Reed National Military Hospital in Washington, D.C., to making Gold Star banners for mothers and wives who have lost a loved one.
The group currently is putting together its Operation Sharing Hearts initiative in which Valentine’s themed care packages are sent to deployed soldiers.
Volunteers will gather Jan. 28 at Memorial Baptist Church, 2435 Eakin Road, Columbus, to put together these boxes that contain products donated by approximately 11 schools, businesses, churches or organizations that have held donation drives.
“We typically include the traditional care package items, such as beef jerky; tuna, chicken and salmon in foil or pouch packaging; hygiene items; laundry pods and dryer sheets; and Valentine’s items as well such as heart shaped boxes of candy, Hershey’s Kisses, Rolo’s and Peppermint Patties,” Young said.
At this point, candy donations have been generous, so the organization is instead asking for other items like beef jerky, Jif-to-Go, travel-sized foot powder and other travel-sized items. Monetary donations are also accepted to help cover the cost of postage, and Valentine’s cards, notes and pictures from children are encouraged.
Donations may be dropped off at the church from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 27 when volunteers will be on hand to begin organizing in preparation for the packing event the following day.
Patriotic fabric in 1-yard increments also is needed – allowing volunteers to get a head start on next year’s boxes, Young said.
Buckeye Military Families began sending boxes to soldiers stationed overseas in 2014, with the goal of mailing 50. The group exceeded that goal by 25, and in 2015, sent more than 100. In 2016, soldiers opened 122 packed boxes.
“This year, our goal is 150 and based on donations so far, we believe we will exceed that goal as well,” Young said.
The only requirement for a soldier to receive a box is that he or she be deployed or stationed overseas. They do not need to reside in Ohio.
“We’ve had boxes go to Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, Japan, Korea, Jordan, Germany and Italy,” she said.
The boxes are sent in memory of soldiers who have lost their lives overseas. This year, the organization is honoring Army Spc. Joseph Riley, of Grove City, who died in 2014 in Afghanistan, and Army Capt. Jonathan Grassbaugh, of East Hampstead, N.H., who died in 2007 in Iraq.
Each year, the organization also pays tribute to Airman James Hansen, who was killed in 2010 in Iraq. His mother, Emily Hansen, is a Semper Fi sister from Athens, Mich.
When that chapter could no longer hold a packing event, members approached Buckeye Military Families and Semper Fi Sisters, asking if the groups could continue so the Hansens could attend. After eventually moving to the East Coast, however, the Hansens suggested that Ohio fallen soldiers instead be honored. Buckeye Military Families decided to honor Ohio soldiers, but to include paying tribute to James Hansen as well each year, Young said.
If anyone has a loved one who is deployed through mid-March or is stationed overseas and would like to receive a box, Young said to email
BuckeyeMilitaryFamilies@SemperFiSisters.com to place a soldier’s name on the mailing list.
New this year, organizers also are including handmade patriotic pillowcases in each package.
“We collected fabric throughout the year and met multiple times to make pillowcases,” Young said. “We had tasks to help in an assembly line process where anyone could help, regardless of having a sewing machine or ability to sew.”
Volunteers will continue this addition throughout 2017, preparing for next year’s packages.
Anyone interested in helping may contact organizers by emailing the address above as well.
For more information, call (614) 407-4076 or go to SemperFiSisters.org/buckeye-military-families.