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Mass. nonprofit CarePacks nears 30,000 mark in packages sent to troops

CarePacks Board President Rick Bruce inspects one of the care packages in the organization's Weymouth, Mass. warehouse on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019.

TOM GORMAN/FOR THE PATRIOT LEDGER

By MARY WHITFILL | The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass. | Published: August 30, 2019

WEYMOUTH, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — Sitting inside an unassuming warehouse on Pond Street are hundreds of thousands of ordinary items. Bland folding tables are covered in things like peanut butter jars, coffee grounds, boxes of Q-Tips, razors, deodorant, pretzels, lip balm and fly strips.

To the unknowing eye, it just looks like a storage facility full of stuff leftover from a concession stand or yard sale, but all the seemingly random items have one thing in common: they're inaccessible to soldiers overseas.

For the last 15 years, the act of one Weymouth couple sending small gifts to their military son-in-law has evolved into a large-scale volunteer operation that turns nonperishable food items, toiletries, small games and more into thousands of care packages for American servicemembers stationed all over the world.

"A lot of people don't get anything from home, so this is a wonderful opportunity," said Laurie Hansen, a longtime volunteer with the Weymouth organization CarePacks. "They don't know who we are, but they're grateful."

CarePacks was founded in 2004 by Rick and AnnMarie Donohue, a Weymouth couple who caught the attention of friends and neighbors when they were constantly sending packages to their son-in-law, a military member who was stationed overseas.

"People in our neighborhood saw us going back and forth to the post office all the time and sending packages and everybody said to us 'we should do something for Christmas,' so we started hanging up fliers," AnnMarie said.

That year, with help, the Donohues raised money by selling magnetic wreaths that said 'support our troops' and managed to send 50 care packages to soldiers stationed around the world. They felt good about it, they said, but then the letters started pouring in.

"We got all these beautiful letters back and thought 'OK, we have to keep doing this,'" AnnMarie said. "That's what kept us going. Getting letters from grateful people was really amazing."

The Donohues then incorporated and built a board of directors for their newly-founded nonprofit. The next year, current board President Rick Bruce stepped in and had an idea the founders thought was crazy at the time.

"We were doing, you know, 300 boxes a year, and Rick said 'Come on, we can do 1,000 for Christmas,'" Rick Donohue said. "We thought it was crazy. But we did it."

From there, the organization grew tenfold. It went from a dozen people storing boxes of supplies in garages and renting rooms from the Elks for packing nights to a military-like operation that sees 100 volunteers each year and has the process of sorting, packing and shopping boxes down to a science.

CarePacks sends boxes five times per year, in March, May, June, September and November. They get about 2,000 care packages out per year, and will sent their 30,000th box this November, Bruce said.

For every batch of boxes, CarePacks hosts two sorting nights where they go through every supply they have, and set up an assembly-line system that will allow them to pack with maximum efficiency. Then, five times per year, they host a Saturday packing event where all the boxes are stuffed, sealed and labeled for shipping.

Most supplies are bought with money donated to the organization, but sometimes things come to the group in random ways.

Every Halloween, Bruce said, dentists donate the thousands of pounds of candy they buy off local kids. Similar relationships built over the years have made CarePacks a go-to destination for products companies no longer need. On a recent sorting night, boxes were full of branded toothbrushes donated by a dentist whose phone number had changed, and bars of soap were given by Holiday Inn after its logo was updated, making the packaging obsolete.

"We mostly buy our stuff, but we love when things fall off the truck our way," Bruce said.

Every package gets a smattering of standard items like snacks and toiletries, but CarePacks has also helped fulfill requests for items like Keurig coffee pods, and leaf blowers used to keep sand out of living quarters in desert nations.

"We invest a lot of time but we also invest some of our own money," Rick Donohue said. "If somebody asks for something special — we're going to get it for them."

In addition to supplies, every package includes a hand-written thank you letter from a student in Weymouth Public Schools.

"People don't realize how much military members give up," Hansen said. "Just to give a little back to them is worth everything."

mwhitfill@patriotledger.com

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