Christy Smith was at a Baton Rouge Harley Owners Group meeting in 2008 when someone from the local dealership asked if anyone would coordinate sending care packages to deployed military personnel.
“I found my hand going up, tears in my eyes for some reason saying, ‘I’ll do it,’” she said.
For thousands of servicemen and women, there may have been a few tears of gratitude.
Along with several other volunteers, Smith and her husband, Allen, started what is now the Baton Rouge Soldier Outreach, a nonprofit organization that sends packages to make life overseas more like home for those in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
Twelve years later, Christy Smith is still running the organization, which has shipped 9,014 individual care packages and 283 boxes of items to be shared by military units.
That’s 117,840.86 pounds of goods, that cost $29,060.77 to mail.
And how do these soldiers, sailors and Marines feel when they get the packages?
“The Marines were blown away by your generosity and have asked me to relay their gratitude,” wrote Marine Chief Warrant Officer 3 Trevor Claypool, who is stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany. “Watching them open the care packages was very much like watching a child open a Christmas gift. Each one would show the others what was in the box and share it with those around them. … To know that there are people out there thinking of us and praying for us is a huge blessing.”
Much of what is in the packages are mundane items, like socks and shaving cream, which are often hard to get when deployed to remote areas.
And then there’s the snacks — beef jerky, boxes of raisins, peanut butter crackers, chips, cookies, peanuts, trail mix and protein bars are popular. Candy and Cajun seasonings are also popular.
There’s also a demand for puzzles, disposable razors, toiletries, decks of cards and video games, Smith said.
For Christmas packages, there’s lots of candy. The February shipments includes Valentines made by youngsters.
Those from the Baton Rouge area are first priority for packages, but if no one from this area is nominated, the group will take names from other areas.
The project started out small, sending maybe 10 packages at a time.
But, as more people found out about it, there were more requests, and those getting the packages kept adding names, wanting to make sure no one in their units got left out. The numbers grew to the point where shipping costs for the Baton Rouge Harley-Davidson dealership became prohibitive.
In 2011, Baton Rouge Solider Outreach became its own entity and started raising money to keep it going. BRSO achieved nonprofit status in 2017.
“Whenever the economy gets bad, people can’t work and cut back, but God always provides for us,” Allen Smith said. “We send everything that we get to the soldiers, especially the stuff they ask for.”
Most of the goods sent overseas are donated, though BRSO sometimes buys items so there will be enough packages for everyone in the deployed unit.
The bundles of goodies are put together on the first Saturday of February, May, August and November, sometimes to more than one unit. If the organization receives individual requests in between the quarterly deliveries, BRSO will ship a package in a U.S. Postal Service priority mail box.
“No soldier is left behind,” Christy Smith said. “Because we’ve gotten bigger, we can take on more. If I have two soldiers who are contacting me for August, I’ll send it. Before, we couldn’t do that because we couldn’t afford it.”
Originally, the packages were assembled at the Harley dealership on Siegen Lane. In 2017, packaging moved to Mooyah Burgers and Shakes. In 2019, BRSO got the use of a warehouse to store the items, which has made the process easier, Smith said.
In addition to about 20 BRSO members, volunteers assist from other organizations, including employees from Capital One Bank, the Marine Corps League Choctaw Battalion, and members of Sharon Baptist Church, Higher Destiny Church and the Military Officers Auxiliary of America.
“I have seen family members … at the stuffing events show deep gratitude for the stacks of boxes going to their son’s or daughter’s unit overseas,” said Reggie Brown with the local MOAA chapter. “It provides a great comfort for the family. Corporate volunteers with no military connections develop a deep understanding of the sacrifice military family and service members make. Youth and JROTC units find purpose in reaching out beyond themselves to serve others.
“I am amazed that there is a different group of volunteers along with some of the same at each stuffing, which means the Baton Rouge community is searching for ways to serve our military families and veterans and this is one way to do so.”
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