DUNCANSVILLE - When Gary Clare served in the military, he would receive care packages from friends and family back home - snacks, personalized notes and little mementos.
Some of his fellow soldiers, though, never received anything, he said, and he would share what he received with them.
Years later, working at his store, Smith Furniture, a customer mentioned that they had been sending packages to their son in Iraq. That story "reignited the memory" of his time serving in the armed forces and of those who didn't receive correspondence from their families, he said, and Operation S.O.S. was born.
"When I was away from home, I know what it was like," Clare said.
Operation S.O.S. collects donated food, toiletries and other items to prepare care packages for soldiers serving overseas. In its 10th year, the project has shipped more than 3,300 boxes to military personnel stationed across the world. Volunteers are currently collecting items to send to 465 soldiers, Clare said.
The packages will be sent to two different units in Afghanistan and one stationed in Okinawa, Japan, he said.
Most requested items:
- Cards and letters written to the soldiers
- Slim Jims or beef jerky
- Cans of Pringles or Lay's potato chips
- Popcorn balls
- Protein or power bars
- Single-serving packages of trail mix
- Shampoo, shower gel and body lotion (15 ounces and under)
- Liquid hand sanitizer (10 ounce and under)
He said the staff has grown from a small group of five core members to as many as 300 helping to fill the boxes. Connections to the different groups of soldiers come through ties in the military community, which he said is a "band of brothers."
"We're pretty well-rooted in the community," Clare said.
Operation S.O.S. is collecting items through Nov. 22, and the boxes will be packed in early December, Clare said.
The soldiers will receive the care packages, which each contain about 50 different items, in time for Christmas. A stocking filled with candy, popcorn balls and other holiday goodies completes each package, he said.
Clare said the soldiers are incredibly appreciative for the packages, and he keeps a scrapbook with notes of gratitude. Points of contact in each unit also send home photos of the packages being unloaded and opened.
Paula Brennecke, who has volunteered with Operation S.O.S. for the past several years, said those at home need to remember the job the soldiers have to do each day.
"I think it's really important to give back to them," she said.
Brennecke said citizens might not realize exactly how much those serving in the military have to go without.
She said the process of collecting the donations really helps to bring people in the community together.
Clare echoed the sentiment.
"People sort of look forward to this every year," he said.
A complete list of accepted donations and donation sites is available at Smith Furniture's website, www.smithfurniturehof.com. Operation S.O.S. cannot mail items in glass jars or aerosol cans, canned goods or expired items.
Mirror Staff Writer Paige Minemyer is at 946-7535.