Bags of Blessings for Our Troops
Submitted by Kathryn Farris
Catalina Foothills Church (PCA)
Brief Overview of Bags of Blessings for our Troops Project:
Last November one of our members suggested that we send gifts to our troops stationed in Iraq to show our support, love and appreciation. Through several websites, we determined what personal supplies the troops needed, such as toothpaste, deodorant, anti-fungal cream, etc. We decided to ship the items in individual one gallon plastic baggies. From that, we came up with the name for our project: BAGS OF BLESSINGS FOR OUR TROOPS.
Collection of Items: We put a brief announcement in the church bulletin and set up a display in the church narthex asking for donations of the needed items.
Suggested items: all kinds of toiletries, phone cards, anti-fungal cream, Neosporin. Travel size toiletries in Ziploc bags that the soldiers can carry in the cargo pocket of their pants are especially appreciated. Lip balm or Chapstick (must be in a sealed package, but you can cut off the excess packaging), sunscreen, individually wrapped moisture towelettes, lotion, chewing gum. Also, quality Christian reading materials are in short supply and would be appreciated. Do NOT send romance novels – no one reads them and they are awash in them already. Do not send candy or cookies. Food is plentiful and it attracts rodents and snakes while in transit to the soldiers.
We received feedback from an earlier distribution. They asked that we NOT send food. They have a lot of food available to them, and rodents are a problem. They like books. One chaplain asked for Christian books to use for Bible studies and general reading. He asked specifically for Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis to use for Bible Studies. Our members donated approximately 100 Christian books. We shipped the books separately, so we could use the “Media” mailing rate, which is significantly cheaper. He said they really needed anti-fungal cream and antibiotic ointment. These items tend to be quite expensive. However, we were able to purchase them in bulk from the Dollar Store and shipped them separately to the chaplain (approximately 100 tubes of each). We also asked for monetary donations to cover the mailing expenses.
It was suggested that we use one gallon plastic baggies to package the supplies, so the individual soldiers could easily store the supplies in their barracks or backpacks. We asked the Sunday school classes to make cards to enclose in each bag. The cards from the kids were adorable. Many of them included pictures of flags and said, “Thanks for keeping us safe.”
We had to purchase some items such as anti-fungal cream, Chapstick, sunscreen, and deodorant. The Walgreens at Ina and La Cholla gave us a very good discount on these items.
Packing/Mailing: A group of approximately 8 volunteers from our Missions’ class packed the baggies. We mailed the bags in large cardboard boxes. Since then, we’ve learned that the post office offers pre-paid shipping boxes, which are cheaper to send.
A customs form must be completed for each box, carefully listing the contents. This is very important for security reasons. We were told by the post office that customs inspectors would randomly examine a percentage of boxes. If they find items that are not listed on the customs form, the entire box will be destroyed.
Items must be shipped to a specific person. They cannot simply be addressed to “any soldier.” When we collected enough items to pack in baggies, and package in boxes, we contacted our Chaplain Ministries office in Atlanta (ChaplainMinistries@pcanet.org). They contacted one of deployed chaplains in Iraq who served as our distribution point over there. They also provided us the chaplain’s US Post Office parcel post address, so shipping the materials was relatively inexpensive.
We suggest putting the church’s mailing address in each bag. Sometimes we received several thank you notes from individual soldiers. This connection could lead to the potential for future personal communications with a specific soldier, if your church wanted to do that.