In late July, over 150 men and women from the 206th Engineer Battalion of the Kentucky National Guard said goodbye to their friends and families and boarded a plane to serve their country in the Middle East. With the expectation of spending nearly a year overseas, these soldiers would be missing one year of birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Keeping this in mind, nearly 100 volunteers from throughout the Owensboro community assembled at the National Guard Armory Saturday to pack and prepare boxes to be sent to soldiers in time for the holidays.
After a five-hour team effort from local individuals, National Guard parents, area churches and local organizations, 259 boxes were packed, taped and transported to Packages Plus, with an additional 40 planned to go out next week.
Earlier this year, Gold Star Mother Cathy Mullins, co-founder of the Brandon Scott Mullins Memorial Foundation, addressed the guidance counselors at Daviess County Public Schools (DCPS). Mullins said every school within the district participated in some way, with the exception of two, including Owensboro Day Treatment (ODT).
“ODT did a great job on their boxes — they colored the whole thing,” Mullins said, adding that the outside and inside of all of the boxes had been available for decoration as they would then be shipped in larger packing boxes.
Out of the DCPS schools participating, Mullins said Daviess County Middle School (DCMS) and Highland Elementary School (HES) donated the highest number of care packages. DCMS guidance counselor Melissa Phelps said she sent out a schoolwide email after Mullins presented the idea at the district counselor meeting.
“I sent out an email to the staff and then I talked to Kelly [Skeens] who has all three sons in the military,” Phelps said. “They just took off with it after that.”
Phelps said the entire school got on board with the community service aspect of the project, from grade level teams to after school clubs and sponsors, putting together a total of 30 care packages.
“Some of the soldiers selected were former DCMS students,” Phelps said. “So some of the teachers made personal connections with those soldiers.”
Mullins said flags will be purchased for each of the 17 DCPS schools, the Owensboro Catholic 4-6 Campus, VFW Post 696, AMVETS Posts 75 and 119 and American Legion Post 9. She said the foundation has coordinated with a soldier at the base to have each flag flown for one day in honor of that school or organization.
“We have a soldier that will then certify that it flew for the day and send it back for the school [or organization] to put on display,” Mullins said. “This unit has not deployed in [over] 13 years — that’s a generation — this is special.”
Former Air Force pilot, and pastor of Greater Vision Baptist Church, Ken Shaver brought 15 members of his “veteran strong” congregation to assist with packing as well as hand-addressing personalized Christmas cards.
United States Navy veteran David Horn was one of the congregation members that spent nearly two hours writing personal messages to each soldier on his list.
“I spent 10 years in the military and went on four deployments — mail call is so important when you are overseas,” Horn said. “We’re just here trying to help the men and women overseas have somewhat of a Christmas.”
There were also 16 members of the Civil Air Patrol Owensboro Composite Squadron, including cadets, seniors and leaders who stayed for the duration of the morning to seal, tape and load boxes into the awaiting transport van.
Not all organizations assembled care package, some donated items such as Ramen noodles, toiletries and other snack supplies.
One particular organization that contacted both the National Guard Armory and Mullins was Socks and Cookies, founders of the fishing tournament Kicking Bass for Troops. The mission of Socks and Cookies is to support deployed troops by providing them with “a piece of home while they are away” in the form of care packages.
After hearing about the deployment of the 206th, officials with the organization asked how they could help. The one request Mullins said had gone unfulfilled was the soldier’s request for Nerf guns. Socks for Cookies contacted Nerf and spent $200 of their own donated funds to purchase 70 Nerf guns to include in the care packages for the 206th. Each one was hand wrapped in Christmas paper by a volunteer before shipping.
Mullins said she was overwhelmed by the amount of volunteers and number of care packages that were donated and assembled on Saturday. She said the acts of selflessness shown by local schools reminded her of something a friend had recently shared with her.
“It’s amazing what we can do if we don’t worry about who gets the credit,” Mullins said.
Those wanting to take part in the care package initiative still have time to participate or can send packages on their own. Mullins said donations toward postage are also welcome, as the cost of shipping so many packages overseas can get very expensive.
Another community care package event is planned for early spring 2020. When packing individual boxes, please visit the Kentucky Remembers website for a list of items that should or should not be included.