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Snacks and face masks: Volunteers adapt troop care packages to the times

A volunteer for Soldiers' Angels, a charity based out of San Antonio, Texas, sews a face mask to send in a care package for deployed service members, April 8, 2020.

MICHELLE JULAZADEH CHAVARIN/SOLDIERS' ANGELS

By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 9, 2020

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Care packages for deployed troops, often filled with items like cookies and cards, will feature something new in response to a worldwide pandemic: face masks.

Volunteers for Soldiers’ Angels, a charity based out of San Antonio, Texas, sewed face masks to put in care packages to send to service members overseas Wednesday night.

The organization bought yards of fabric to sew face masks after a Pentagon directive Sunday required troops to cover their faces if they cannot maintain social distancing standards.

“We are going to be sending masks, as well as sanitizer that is being donated by distilleries around the country,” said Amy Palmer, CEO of Soldiers’ Angels.

These packages should be on the way to troops in Afghanistan by the end of the week, Palmer said, adding that these shipments will also include Girl Scout cookies.

Soldiers' Angels, like other organizations that send care packages to deployed service members, has adapted to the coronavirus pandemic. Many workers and volunteers for these organizations are older and at greater risk of dying if infected.

Volunteers have been instructed not to go to the grocery store to buy supplies for care packages if it’s too risky, Palmer said.

The organization, like many other companies across America, has moved to minimal staffing to reduce the chances of infection. The number of boxes sent to troops overseas dipped slightly from around 21,000 in February to about 16,000 in March, Palmer said, although the company sent thousands of care packages last month to troops, families and first responders in the United States.

Charities such as the Maryland-based Operation We Care and the New Jersey-based American Recreational Military Services have stopped care package operations altogether to protect their volunteers, representatives for the groups said.

Operation Shoebox, based out of Belleview, Fla., also stopped sending care packages overseas, but has switched to sewing cloth masks for local health care workers, said Katie Harper, a spokeswoman for the group.

Other organizations, such as American Legion posts in Bethlehem, Conn., and Tulsa, Okla., as well as Soldiers’ Angels, have also begun sewing masks for health care workers and troops in the U.S. responding to the crisis.

It is inspirational that people have continued to donate for care packages, even in the midst of a pandemic, said Martin Boire, president of Support Our Troops.

The Tampa, Fla.-based charity is still sending care packages to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, with workers for Support Our Troops sanitizing every item that goes in its care packages.

“(Support Our Troops) continues to receive goods and donations even during this difficult period, a testimony to the goodwill Americans have for their service members,” Boire said.

lawrence.jp@stripes.com
Twitter: @jplawrence3

 

A volunteer for Soldiers' Angels, a charity based out of San Antonio, Texas, uses a sewing machine to make a face mask for a deployed service member, April 8, 2020.
MICHELLE JULAZADEH CHAVARIN/SOLDIERS' ANGELS

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