An effort started by a member of the Rotary Club of Cabarrus County has touched the lives of at least 120 U.S. military members serving overseas - so far.
Since 2009, 17-year Rotarian Steve Grubb has organized dozens of volunteers who have helped make and send care packages for troops. Grubb said the "impromptu project" has received so much momentum that the rotary club formed a committee to continue the service project.
"How awesome is it that something small pays huge dividends in terms of the morale of our soldiers," said Grubb.
Items are being collected - volunteers and donations are needed - for the rotary's third effort. Care packages will be shipped to arrive for the July 4th holiday. Donations will be accepted through June 26.
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People can donate various items, or money to offset shipping costs, or volunteer to create and send care packages. Popular items in need range from individually wrapped non-perishable items (drink mixes, granola bars, crackers, dried fruit snacks) to socks, CDs and personal hygiene items. People also personalize cards or send other gifts.
The idea for the project came to Grubb after he saw a Facebook post from a church friend, Sgt. 1st Class Paul Johnson, a Harrisburg resident who was deployed for his second tour in Iraq.
Johnson, a platoon sergeant, was serving as a member of the N.C. Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 113th Field Artillery Regiment, almost 7,000 miles away. He often received support from his wife and two kids, as well as from his church and extended family, but said other soldiers weren't as lucky.
"When another church member asked him via email what they could send him, he said he'd prefer for them to send a package to soldiers that didn't have much of a support network," said Grubb.
That inspired Grubb and his family to collect items. They set a goal of sending about a dozen boxes but the idea grew, volunteers kept coming forward and the first effort yielded 71 care packages. Grubb said about 100 people have contributed to making a small, but effective, difference.
"We continue to send active-duty military and reservists to Afghanistan, with no end in sight," said Grubb. "It's so easy for us to go about our daily lives and not think too much about these folks. I think that sending these packages can remind the soldiers that we are thinking about them and we appreciate the sacrifices they are making. We are thinking about them, and their families, and we want to send these packages as a way of saying 'thanks' for all you're doing for us."
After returning home in 2010, Johnson attended a weekly meeting of the Rotary Club as a guest.
"The Rotary Club's Adopt-a-Soldier program greatly boosted our soldier's morale," said Johnson. "It's nice to know that there are people besides your family that appreciate and support you. It also allows the soldiers to connect with someone who may not know anyone serving in the military, and show what we, as soldiers, go through and the sacrifices we endure while away from our families."
Philip McAuley, a Rotarian from Concord, has a personal connection to the club's third effort.
"I had participated in the projects that we had done in the past and, at some point in a conversation with Steve Grubb, found our club participation was better when we had a personal connection to the unit," said McAuley. "So when my friend, Jeff Getz, told me that his unit was being deployed, I approached Steve to see if his unit could be the next one we adopt. Jeff, a major, is from a very supportive family, so the idea was not to help Jeff directly, but help some of the guys in his command that might not be as fortunate.
"It's just a small gesture that my family can make to let one of our servicemen or women know that we appreciation what they do for us."