Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan get boxes of goodies to make life easier
Jennifer Fair is on a mission to send comforts of home to soldiers overseas
Some American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan really appreciate the efforts of a fair lady in King City.
Jennifer Fair was inspired by a story in the September 2010 issue of the Regal Courier about Barbara Whisnant and other members of the King City/Tigard Republican Women's Club bringing toiletries and other items to their monthly luncheons, which Whisnant boxes up and ships to troops contacted through www.anysoldier.com.
"I was already shopping like crazy to get items for organizations like the Union Gospel Mission,' said Jennifer, who is a cashier at the Rite Aid near Albertson's in the Tigard Towne Square shopping center. "I was buying them for a fraction of the cost."
She looked at the anysoldier website and was touched by reading their blogs.
"Those on the forward lines have no toothpaste, no deodorant, no shampoo, nothing,' she said. "There are no PXs for them to shop at."
Jennifer, who keeps meticulous records of what she has shipped in each of the more than 100 boxes sent so far, sent her first one Sept. 10, 2010.
"The soldiers wrote back to thank me and asked for letters," she said.
Luckily, there is a writer in the family.
Jennifer moved to King City last fall to become the primary caregiver for her parents - dad Tom, who is a disabled veteran, and stepmom Leanna, who also has had health issues. Tom has always liked to write and started penning a series of letters to the troops under the pseudoname "Father Brown."
"I write as if they're my kids," said Tom, who moved with Leanna to King City more than two years ago to be closer to the Veterans Hospital in Portland. "I start the letters out, 'Hi, kids,' and end them with 'Love, Dad.' I let them know we're proud of them. The letters are morale boosters."
Jennifer added, "We mail the letters separately. The troops love mail call."
Filling the boxes has become an exact science for Jennifer: Due to wise use of coupons and watching for sales, she can convert $100 into $1,000 to $2,000 worth of merchandise to ship.
"I have bought things at 2 to 3 percent of their retail value,' she said. 'I am known as the coupon queen at my store. Sometimes I have to go to five different Rite Aids, depending on what I need to get. Sometimes I get some strange looks, but that's OK.'
She has turned her bedroom into a mini-warehouse: One wall is stacked with boxes labeled with the items inside.
"I have bought hundreds of items at one time, and I keep them until I have enough different items to fill boxes," Jennifer said. "Literally, you don't see the floor for weeks at a time.
"There are always about 30 boxes in my room at any given time. Now I'm stocking up for Easter. Under my bed there is candy, food and hygiene items. After March, because the temperature gets so high over there, you have to ship food and hygiene items separately. They don't want the soldiers to get deodorant-flavored cookies."
Popular items are baby wipes and laundry detergent because "they will go for days at a time with no running water, and they do their own wash when they have water," said Jennifer, who estimates she has sent between $10,000 and $18,000 worth of items to troops since September.
She has made about 40 contacts in either Iraq or Afghanistan, but over time, some troops come home or she loses track of them.
"I'm down to about 20 contacts now," she said recently.
Jennifer admitted that when she started this project with a couple boxes, "I didn't think it would get this big."
She added, "I've never been a coupon shopper before. I think this is God's sense of humor."
There are some women among the troops that Jennifer ships boxes to, and one group in particular she calls the "Hello Kitty" troop.
"They are the girly girls," she said. "They ask for hair products and scented soap. One time I put in some scented soap petals that I came across, and they loved them.
"I have a couple of troops - all they want are golf balls. They hit them over the Tigress River."
Jennifer mails the boxes at the Post Office in McCann's Pharmacy in King City, and the goodwill doesn't just flow one way, as she has received many thank you notes and cards.
"One soldier sent me a flag that was flown over Afghanistan during a mission," said Jennifer, pointing out the carefully folded flag encased in a glass-covered box.
"It is my most prized possession," she added. "I was shocked when it came in the mail. When you read some of the thank you cards, they are incredible. The troops feel like family to us."
Although Jennifer is a whiz at spending small amounts of money to fill the boxes for shipping, there is no way around the fact that each box costs $12.95 to mail.
"My family has been incredibly supportive of this project, and my best friend Renee Atkins helps me with all the work," said Jennifer.
"I was a credentialed teacher in the Los Angeles area," she said. "And then I was the manager of a See's store in Idaho. I became a foster mom while I was teaching, and I was a foster mom in Idaho for high-risk teens. In Boise, there were only five houses that would take these kids - I had 20 kids in two years."
From Idaho, Jennifer moved back to LA and then came to Oregon to visit Tom and Leanna.
"I never went back," she said. "I am my parents' primary caregiver, and it's nice to be helpful. Because I don't have many living expenses living here, I spend most of my salary on items for the boxes and postage. I have spent $1,300 on postage since September."
Jennifer and Renee are working to set up a non-profit organization called "Operation Christmas Glory" to raise funds to fill and ship boxes of items to troops year-round.
"The only way we'll become reputable is to start a non-profit," she said. "We are now looking for locations to wrap Christmas presents as our primary fundraiser."
Jennifer said that she got inspired to help others as a child.
"Dad embedded in me the idea not to care about material stuff,' she said. "I've never had many wants. I have way more fun giving stuff away. I already get a lot of items to ship.
'What I need are Sunday newspapers with all the coupons and ads, and I use the comics as filler in the boxes. The soldiers love reading them - it gives them a laugh."
One easy way for people to help Jennifer with this project is to leave checks made out to Postmaster for $12.95 at the Post Office in McCann's, which will be set aside for her to use when she comes in with boxes to ship.