Giving season shouldn't end after holidays

December 12, 2006|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Sun Columnist

This is the time of year when soup kitchens are overflowing with both soup and volunteers. When pantries for the hungry are fully stocked.

It is the time of year when shoppers stuff lots of money into bright red kettles. When toys and books overflow the boxes set up to brighten a poor child's Christmas.

The same is true for our newest devotion: the lonely soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and the wounded in our military hospitals. Charities that support our troops are hip deep in DVDs and phone cards and care packages this month.

Melanie Carson, communications manager for the USO of Metropolitan Washington, said she recently attended a "packing party," where volunteers assembled care packages for troops, and she'd never seen such a crowd.

"Right now, people are so focused on volunteering. It is the time of year. We hope the interest continues into the new year," she said.

The same is true at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, which treats wounded Marines and sailors.

"Right now, we have storerooms full of stuff," said public affairs officer Brian Badura. "Books, video games, DVDs, phone cards, clothing."

The hospital was getting ready for a visit from firefighters, and it is a safe bet they won't show up empty-handed. A quilting society sent handmade blankets. Washington chefs prepared a gourmet dinner.

My point is this: The last plane carrying the last Christmas care package from the USO has left. And it looks like it will be a good Christmas - relatively speaking - for the wounded.

Be there in January. And in July. If you can display that yellow ribbon on the tail end of your car 12 months a year, you can be generous out of season as well.

There are a million ways to do it. The Web is full of sites asking for your unused frequent flier miles, for boxer shorts and socks, for wet wipes, for phone cards.

I know it feels soulless, but there is nothing like cold, hard cash.

The security restrictions that followed Sept. 11, 2001, mean that you can't send packages to unnamed soldiers.

But you can donate $25 to the USO, and it will see that a package - which contains $50 to $75 worth of items - gets sent.

According to Carson, that package will include toiletries in a kit bag made to go with soldiers to a shower, wet wipes, playing cards, issues of Reader's Digest, snacks, drink mixes, gum, an international phone card to call home, a disposable camera and sunscreen.

Plus a message of support. You can write one when you donate.

Sometimes those packages include other stuff, too. Manufacturers donate or sell at bulk prices T-shirts, CDs and sunglasses. Copies of Pamela Anderson's autobiography were donated once, too.

"We just packed our 1 millionth care package since the war started," said Carson.

The USO of Metropolitan Washington started this program, and it proved so successful the USO world organization adopted it.

The packing happens at least once a month, and you can volunteer to help do that, too.

Badura, too, suggests cash donations to the groups that support injured troops - the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, among others. There is also the Medical Family Assistance Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

"It gives these groups the flexibility to buy the things that are needed," Badura said.

If you are not sure about the authenticity of a group, he said, look for an endorsement from the Department of Defense.

So get out your checkbook and send a donation to comfort the young men and women who are paying the price for this war. It is a worthy thing to do this holiday season.

And then remember to send another check in July.,

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

To donate a care package and to read the letters of thanks, go to www.usocares.org.

To help assemble care packages, contact volunteer coordinator Ronee Yasher at 703-806-3555 or ronee.yasher@ fmmc.army.mil.

To donate in support of the wounded and their families, go to nmcrs.org.

To help provide an injured, hospitalized Marine with a $500 gift, go to semperfifund.org.

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