Packages, treats lighten load throughout the year

By Linda T. Gracey

For Valentine’s Day, hundreds of deployed service personnel will get some sweet treats from the Military Families Ministry.

It is one of several care packages men and women serving the United States in harm’s way receive throughout the year.

“We ship to many locations in the Middle East, said Tracie Ciambotti, a co-founder of the group. The packages are sent to not only loved ones of members of Military Families Ministry, but to everyone in that deployed loved one’s unit.

At Easter, more treat bags will be sent their way and in the summer its Operation: Socks for Soldiers, the military support group’s biggest campaign. For Christmas, deployed military groups receive 4,406 stockings filled with treats, socks and other items. Year-round, the organization ships Mission Kits, which are nutritious treats for troops in the field to provide extra nutrition in addition to MRE’s or meals ready to eat.

Military Families Ministry, with groups in Bellwood, State College and Strasburg, Colo., is made up of family members who have a son, daughter, husband or wife or other loved one serving in the military. It began in 2010 after Ciambotti and Paula Parker of State College came together to pray for their children and branched out to support others with family in the military.

The organization now works with churches and communities, who  are willing to support military families in their areas.

While the treats make holidays more special, the socks may be the most appreciated gift the troops receive.

Ciambotti of Bellwood said temperatures can reach in excess of 130 degrees in the summer in the Middle East, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

“It is very difficult for our troops to keep their feet clean and dry considering they are wearing boots all day and do not have the ability to purchase socks,” Ciambotti wrote in a press release about the campaign.

Last year, about 8,600 socks, rolled and secured with a label that says “Thank you for your service,” were sent overseas.

She said the gifts are a way to show the men and women in uniform that “we care about them and to let them know we appreciate their sacrifice for our freedoms.”

It is also a way to take God’s grace and share it with others, she said.

Because there are no PXs in the desert, Military Families Ministry also works with military chaplains to supply basic needs such as shampoo, body wash, shaving cream and feminine hygiene products.

“These are necessities,” said Ciambotti, who explained that while troops pack those items before leaving the states, they can run out before more are provided.

She said Military Families Ministry shipped about $1,200 worth of these supplies to troops in 2016.

Sometimes the work continues when the troops return home. A few years ago, Ciambotti said a female chaplain serving in Kuwait gave her what seemed like an impossible request to fulfill.

The chaplain wanted 300 blankets and pillows for troops returning to their barracks at Fort Hood. When they would arrive home, their beds at the military post in Killeen, Texas, would only have sheets. The rest of the bedding was in storage and might not be issued for weeks.

And while the average temperature in the Texas town it is 66 degrees, it seems cold to soldiers who have been living in 120- to 130-degree heat for months.

Supplying the bed furnishing would take a lot of money, “but by the grace of God, we would make it happen,” she said.

She made a national appeal for blankets, contacting not only members of the Military Families Ministry, but the national group, Military Mama Network and a Few Good Men… . She outlined the specific fleece blanket that was needed and where to purchase it. That way, individuals within the groups could make  one-time purchases and send them to Fort Hood.

To get the pillows, she called a couple of manufacturers.

“I was in awe,” she said when Tom Clapp, vice president, market development at My Pillow Inc., promised to ship 300 pillows for free. She said he told her he had been a Marine and remembers using his backpack filled with dirty clothes as a pillow.

“We have never had a request that we are not able to fulfill,” Ciambotti said. “God provides every single time.”

Another way the organization shows that it cares is by sending hand-knit prayer patches to chaplains to distribute to someone who is struggling or needs encouragement.

About 1,800 patches, which can be slipped into a pocket, were distributed last year and each one comes with a card stating “Nine Blessings from Above” and the message that Military Families Ministry is praying for them.

She said those who receive the patches often email her. She said she remembers one young woman that especially warmed her heart.

“I carry it with me in my pocket every day,” she wrote.