Military mom plays Santa Claus to ‘700 sons’ in Afghanistan

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Military mom plays Santa Claus to ‘700 sons’ in Afghanistan–And how YOU can support a soldier
by Carol Morello

CULPEPER, Va. — Shoeboxes wrapped in cheery Christmas paper are stacked eye-high in a corner of Pat Jacobs’s small living room, even blocking the front door.

The packages, destined for troops serving in Afghanistan, hold small items whose absence is deeply felt at desert and mountain bases with no Post Exchanges nearby. Socks, disposable razors, paperback books, and salty and sweet snacks are stuffed into boxes inversely proportional in size to the rank of their recipients. The bigger boxes are labeled for privates, the smaller ones for officers.

Pat Jacobs didn’t start out to play Santa Claus to about 700 soldiers serving with her son, Scott, in his unit of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. But after he started e-mailing her requests from his buddies, it snowballed into a project that has consumed most of the year.

“What other female has got 700 sons?” said Jacobs, 54, who has had to work seven days a week cleaning houses to buy enough gifts for everyone in the unit, making up the shortfall that donations do not cover.

“It ain’t about me. What it’s about is, the soldiers in Afghanistan will not be like the boys of the Vietnam era. They won’t be forgotten. I won’t let them be forgotten.” …

     

For all the magnetized “Support Our Troops” ribbons stuck on the backs of automobiles, much of the actual support has fallen on the shoulders of a slender segment of society. Donations to Jacobs’s shoebox project, for example, have been made largely by a few family friends, local fraternal groups and churches, and veterans who remember what a package from home means.

And most of the donors are from Culpeper, a town of about 10,000 people 70 miles southwest of the White House. For them, it was a chance to show their gratitude to the troops.

When Kitty Whitman read a story about Jacobs in the local paper, she asked members of her tiny Episcopal church to fill 20 shoeboxes.

Instead, they prepared 30. The inspiration, she said, was Jacobs.

“She’s a ball of fire with a mission,” said Whitman, the wife of a retired Air Force colonel. “She makes you want to get off your derriere and support the guys in Afghanistan so they will know this Christmas that a little spot on the map called Culpeper, Virginia, didn’t forget them.”

A black POW-MIA flag flies beneath the American flag on a pole in Jacobs’s front yard, reflecting her deep military roots. Her father was a drill sergeant. She has three brothers, each of whom served in one of three service branches. When she graduated from high school in 1969, most of the boys she grew up with shipped out to Vietnam; many never returned.

Now, Jacobs keeps a photograph of her 29-year-old son, dressed in desert camouflage, in a plastic envelope sewn onto a blue pillow embroidered with red and white stars and the motto, “My Hero.”

Her only child grew up knowing he wanted to be a soldier. As a toddler, Scott Jacobs wore a little toy helmet. When he was a boy, he built a camouflaged barracks in the back yard that still stands. He was only 16 when he pre-enlisted in the Army, joining as soon as he graduated from Culpeper High School in 1994.

Initially in the 1st Cavalry Division, his first overseas deployment was in Kuwait, where he guarded the border for several months in 1996. He left the Army the following year, became a sheriff’s deputy and joined the Army Reserve. But when a recruiter called him shortly after the terrorist attacks of 2001, he was ready to rejoin the service.

Assigned to the Army’s 173rd Airborne, he was stationed first in Vicenza, Italy. In February, his unit was deployed to Afghanistan.

The soldiers have faced snipers and roadside bombs. Seven weeks ago, Scott Jacobs narrowly escaped death when a bomb exploded a split second before he would have driven his Humvee over it, he told his mother.

From the beginning of his deployment, Pat Jacobs sent her son care packages every two weeks, filled with socks, food, vitamins and history books. He would share them with others in his unit and later began to e-mail requests: a pair of socks for one buddy, a bottle of eyedrops for another, extra socks for yet another.

“He knew all he had to do was tell Mom,” Jacobs said.

The care packages kept growing larger and larger, and friends gave her a few extra items for each shipment. Soon she was sending five or six boxes at a time, each weighing at least 20 pounds.

But Jacobs thought she could do still more. At first it seemed a pipe dream, but she decided to put together Christmas packages for all 700 soldiers in the unit. In March, she started collecting boxes from a shoe store, stockpiling them in the attic that once was Scott’s bedroom.

Initially, about 10 friends helped her by buying a few things for the boxes. The local chapter of a Vietnam veterans organization donated some items and money for postage, as did the American Legion post, several Ruritan clubs and the Moose lodge.

Jacobs put donation boxes at four businesses, where customers have dropped off plastic bags of inexpensive items. A sign on each box says “Support Our Troops in Afghanistan.”

As guidance, Jacobs put together a checklist of suggested items that, taken together, hint at a soldier’s lot in Afghanistan. Among them are foot powder, sunscreen, lip balm, pipe cleaners to use for cleaning weapons, fly swatters, extra-strength headache medicine, trail mix and jerky strips.

Into each box she places a small felt Christmas stocking filled with candy and a miniature folded American flag donated by the American Legion Auxiliary. She also packs a tiny Christmas tree in most boxes, and puts pine cones and birdhouses in the rest for soldiers who are not Christians.

She also includes a Christmas card addressed “To One of Our Heroes.”

Where the label says “From,” she just writes three letters: USA.

“It’s all they need to know,” she said. “It’s from home.”

Postage for all 700 boxes, each weighing about five pounds, is expected to run more than $3,000.

Last month, Jacobs learned that one of the boxes would no longer be needed. One of the soldiers was killed.

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If you are interested in sending a shoebox to a soldier:

Operation Shoe Box:  http://www.operationshoebox.com/

Any Soldier: http://www.anysoldier.com/

A recommended list of things to include in a box:

Candy (heat resistant)
Fruit Breezes (throat drops)
Twizzlers

CORRESPONDENCE
Writing Paper and Envelopes
Pens/Pencils

DENTAL
Floss
Mouthwash
Toothbrushes
Toothpaste

DRINK
Coffee (instant)
Coffee Creamer
Gatorade
Powdered Drink Mixes
Tea Mixes (sweet) (or tea bags)
KoolAid bursts- to freeze

FOOD (including dry goods, snacks)
Sugar packets
Bars (Clif or Balance)
Beef Jerky
Canned Fruit (pop top cans)
Cereal (in small boxes)
Condiments Packages (ketchup, etc)
Girl Scout Cookies
Granola Bars
Gum (no sticks)
Oatmeal (instant)
Oreos (these are a HIT)
Pop-Tarts
Ravioli (pop top cans)
Tuna Kits

GAMES
Board Games
Checkers (travel size)
Chess (travel size)
Crossword Puzzles
Playing Cards

MUSIC
CD Fanny Packs
CDs
Tapes

PRINTED MATERIALS
Books (novels, short stories)
Newspapers (local)
Magazines

TOILETRIES/HYGIENE
Baby Wipes
Nose spray
Cold Water Wash (Woolite)
Eye Drops
Deodorant
Femine Hygiene Products (for female soldiers)
Foot Powder
Hairbrushes
Hand Lotion
Hand Sanitizers (waterless)
Nail Clippers
Q-Tips
Razors (disposable)
Shampoo
Soap
Sunscreen
Tissues (heavy duty – i.e. Puffs)
Toilet Paper (including travel size)
Tylenol (individual packets)
Wash Rags

Other
Plastic spoons
American Flags (small)
Baggies (with zip lock)
Batteries (AA, D, ….)
Bug Spray (must be packaged in zip-lock bag)
Duct Tape
Disposable Cameras
Flashlights (mini/mag lite, extra bulbs, lots of batteries)
Fans (battery powered – small – with extra batteries)
Fly Strips
Fly Swatters
Pre-Paid Phone Cards
Shoe Insole Cushions
Socks (cushioned)
Sunglasses (black – no brand names)
Sweatbands (or panti-liners for use in helmets)
Harmonicas
Kazoos

Seasonal
Canned turkey
Small unbreakable holiday decorations
Christmas stockings

  • Post cards are also great to send in the packages. You can pre-address the postcard to yourself or your organization with a note asking the service member to please let you know if they received the package.
  • You DO NOT have to put a stamp on the post cards — the service member can mail them for free back to the states.
  • The U.S. Postal Service offers FREE boxes for Priority Mail. You can also order free boxes from the USPS online store (for use with Priority Mail shipping only). The recommended size is the #4 or #7 box. Or call 1-800-222-1811.
  • Remember the many women Soldiers there! If your package is intended for a woman, be sure to address the package, “Attn: Any Female Soldier”.
  • T-Shirts must be Brown for Army, Green for Marines, Black or Brown for Air Force and White for the Navy. A
  • ALL items which contain liquids and pastes (even in cans), put in a zip-lock bag, and a second one up-side-down from the first one. If an item can leak, it will.
  • What NOT to send:

    Home-cooked anything.
    Note: Due to concerns for the health and safety of the Soldiers, and as much as we don’t want to say this, please do not send home-cooked anything to Soldiers other then to your relatives or people who know you. Factory packaged only. Sorry. The Soldiers are told to throw away anything that is not in a factory package.

    LARGE SHIPMENTS
    Especially during the holidays. Send SMALL boxes (say under 10 pounds) and no more than 3 to any single address in the same day. Don’t be part of the log jam, be part of the solution.

    Obscene articles (prints, paintings, cards, films, videotapes, etc).

    Firearms. (no kidding…)

    Any matter depicting nude or semi nude persons, pornographic or sexual items,
    or non authorized political materials.

    Bulk quantities of religious materials contrary to the Islamic faith.
    Items for the personal use of the addressee are permissible.

    Pork or pork by-products.
    Check the USPS site for exact information.

     

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