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Being deployed overseas is not only emotionally and mentally hard on the service member who is serving in another country, but it’s also hard on the families that are left behind.
Though most service members receive regular letters and packages from their loved ones back home, there are some that don’t. Combined with long deployments and work stress, not getting packages and letters can send service members into depression, especially around the holidays.
However, the Blue Star Mothers of America make sure service men and women get a little something to remind them of home, even if they’re not directly related to the service members.
“My kids will always let me know about those who don’t get boxes,” Santa Fe Chapter President Frances Garcia said. “They’re all our kids.”
The Santa Fe chapter, headed by Garcia of Santa Fe and Vice President Lena Martinez of Española, provides care packages and support for a troops and families from Northern New Mexico. Both Garcia and Martinez have children in the armed forces.
Garcia’s son and daughter both serve in the Army, while Martinez’s son serves in the Marine Corps.
The group, which is made up of mothers from Española, Los Alamos and Santa Fe, gets together every third Saturday of the month at Ponce de Leon Retirement Center in Santa Fe for their regular meeting.
When they are not attending regular meetings, the Blue Star Mothers are collecting goods for care packages that are sent overseas.
Four times a year, the group holds a packing party, during which they take all the collected items and pack them into boxes for shipment.
“Our goal is to send out 100 boxes each time,” Garcia said. During their Christmas packing party in 2008, Garcia said that 225 boxes were sent out.
Collection boxes in which to put donations are placed in various businesses around northern New Mexico. In preparation for the upcoming packing party on March 28, a box for donations has been placed at the Larry R. Walkup Aquatic Center in Los Alamos.
“We also have one at Community Bank in Española and one at the Pojoaque Supermarket,” Martinez said. “Prudential Real Estate on Guadalupe and Santa Fe Power Equipment on Jorgensen Lane in Santa Fe also have boxes,” Garcia commented.
“Any business that is interested in having a box put in their establishment can call us,” Martinez said.
The care packages that the group sends out are packed with personal hygiene items, non-perishable foods, Band-aids, paperback books, music CDs, batteries, comic books, flip-flop, fly paper, mousetraps and a myriad of other items.
The most prized possession among troops from New Mexico, however, seem to be the small cans of green chili that are put in the boxes.
“They really appreciate the chili,” Garcia said. “My son told me that he got a package and a guy from New Mexico offered to buy the chili from him.”
Garcia said the Tourism Board also sends out copies of New Mexico Magazine to remind the troops of home.
There is a rather long list of items that are needed for care packages, however, Garcia wants to remind those who wish to donate to think small.
“We need the travel-size personal hygiene items,” she said. “It’s not cost effective for us to buy small bottles to ship things in.”
In addition, small non-perishable food item donations are also encouraged.
Some of the donatable items include tuna packets, Slim Jims, single-serve macaroni and cheese cans with a pop top, granola and protein bars, microwaveable popcorn, individual packets of hot chocolate, apple cider mix, Gatorade, Kool-Aid, or Crystal Light and various other small packaged foods, as well as hard, wrapped candy. The candy is put into the box in place of popcorn packing, once the box is ready to be closed up and shipped.
Though they sometimes tend to get full-size boxes of food and other supplies, they do not go to waste. Martinez said that the donated items they receive that are too large to send out are donated to local soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
“There’s a lot of homeless vets out there,” Garcia commented.
In addition to items that can be packed and sent to troops, the organization always needs monetary donations.
“San Juan Elementary held a bake sale,” Martinez said, “and they gave us a check for $700. The kids were very thankful for the bake sale.”
Monetary donations go toward shipping costs of the packages, which range from $10-$12, as well as buying other supplies that are needed.
For more information on the Blue Star Mothers of America, visit www.nmbluestarmothers.org.
For information on what sort of donations are accepted, contact Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 505-471-0408.
Monetary donations can be sent to: President, Santa Fe Chapter Blue Star Mothers, P.O. Box 6025, Santa Fe, NM 87502-6025.