Sup­port for sol­diers

Lo­cal vol­un­teer op­er­a­tion re­lo­cates to Cov­ing­ton Ar­mory

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Josh Briggs

Amer­i­can sol­diers don’t have the lux­ury of head­ing down to the cor­ner con­ve­nience store to buy shav­ing cream or a snack when they’re in the mid­dle of the desert, over 7,000 miles away from home.

Op­er­a­tion Sand­box, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that re­cently re­lo­cated to Cov­ing­ton, sends care pack­ages to ser­vice­men and ser­vice­women in Afghanistan and Iraq, pro­vid­ing them with cher­ished items from home in­clud­ing Girl Scout cook­ies.

Vir­ginia Pear­son and her daugh­ter Julie started Op­er­a­tion Sand­box in 2004 in Ox­ford at Park Place Bap­tist Church. But af­ter sev­eral years of growth, the or­ga­ni­za­tion needed a larger place to op­er­ate.

The do­na­tions pour in ev­ery day in­clud­ing a van full of Girl Scout cook­ies from mem­bers of Brownie Troop 26342 from DeKalb County. The troop do­nated 400 boxes of cook­ies of all va­ri­eties which Pear­son said are im­mensely pop­u­lar with the troops.

“Ev­ery time we send them Girl Scout cook­ies, we get a lot of pos­i­tive re­sponse,” she said. “We just can’t send them Tag-alongs be­cause they don’t ship well.”

Marsha Hard­ing trans­ported the cook­ies along with three girls from the Brownie troop and said some­times peo­ple don’t even buy cook­ies for them­selves.

“Peo­ple buy th­ese cook­ies es­pe­cially for the troops,” said Hard­ing. “We give them the op­tion if they want to sup­port the troops, they can pick out which cook­ies they want to send. Some peo­ple, that’s all they bought; just cook­ies for the troops.”

What be­gan as a sim­ple cor­re­spon­dence be­tween two peo­ple has grown ten-fold.

It all started when Pear­son met a wo­man in a Michael’s craft store and found out she had a son in Iraq. Af­ter she vol­un­teered to send him a care pack­age she asked her daugh­ter Julie if she would write to the sol­dier, and the two cor­re­spond- ed while Julie was a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Mi­ami. The two even­tu­ally met, then mar­ried.

Op­er­a­tion Sand­box works in con­junc­tion with the U.S. Army to pro­vide the pack­ages to wounded sol­diers in hos­pi­tals in Bagh­dad. Pear­son said the chap­lains in Wash­ing­ton D.C. also help her co­or­di­nate who re­ceives them.

Pear­son said she re­ceives checks from all over the coun­try— some as far away as New York.

Money is ex­cep­tion­ally im­por­tant to the op­er­a­tion, es­pe­cially with the re­cent in­fla­tion of fuel prices. Pear­son said her ship­ping costs have re­cently in­creased to $12 com­pared to last year’s price of $10.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion spon­sors B 1/121 IN (Light) out of Cov­ing­ton and Pear­son said Op­er­a­tion Sand­box will be sup­port­ing all the Na­tional Guard mem­bers de­ploy­ing in 2008 and 2009.

Pear­son said sol­dier’s re­quests over time have given her plenty of ideas to for­mu­late a pretty com­pre­hen­sive list she refers to as the “PX”. But even with more than 50 dif­fer­ent items rang­ing from in­stant pud­ding to DVDs, she knows the list is ever chang­ing.

“We are con­stantly up­grad­ing the list,” she said. “We ask the sol­diers to send us in­put and we get an idea of the most pop­u­lar items based on which ones they cir­cle on the list.”

Vir­ginia said her foun­da­tion reached a peak of 50 pack­ages a week, but since be­ing di­ag­nosed with di­a­betes, she hasn’t been able to pack and send many boxes.

Her con­di­tion has im­proved to the point where she feels like they can pump out at least 30 boxes, start­ing this week.

Bravo Com­pany Sgt. 1st Class Pa­trick Ea­ton didn’t mince words when asked what he felt about Op­er­a­tion Sand­box’s ef­forts.

“A lot of folks at the lo­cal level want to al­ways know how they can help the sol­diers who are abroad fight­ing this global war on ter­ror,” said Ea­ton. “Care pack­ages are a great way for sol­diers to get a taste of home. It’s mo­ti­vat­ing and re­ally boosts morale, es­pe­cially af­ter a bad day.”

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Sweet ser­vice: Pfc. Gar­rett Bitts, left, hands a box of Girl Scout cook­ies to Brownie Troop 26432 mem­ber Bri­anna Hard­ing, as they help to un­load the 400 boxes of cook­ies the troop do­nated to Op­er­a­tion Sand­box Mon­day af­ter­noon. Op­er­a­tion Sand­box, a vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tion that pre­pares and sends sol­diers care pack­ages, re­cently re­lo­cated to the Cov­ing­ton Ar­mory.

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