NEW PORT RICHEY — These women share a powerful bond: The men in their lives were Marines, many of whom served in Vietnam. Even all these years later, they remember what it feels like to have a loved one thousands of miles away in a war zone.
So the members of the Marine Corps League Auxiliary Holiday Unit 130 gather once a month to send off care packages to members of the military stationed overseas — many of whom they don't even know.
"I just felt like I really need do so something," said Kitty Golden, who was the mastermind of the first care package delivery in 2007.
Her husband, Roger, who is the commandant for the Marine Corps League Detachment 567, served two tours in Vietnam. He told her how much he enjoyed receiving care packages from his family, but that he noticed others in his unit never received anything.
It was then that she thought of sending care packages to troops serving abroad now. The first funds were compiled after selling Valentine cut-outs for $2. After about $280 came together, Golden said she went to the store and bought things like cheese, crackers, tuna, toothbrushes and combs and shipped away only five boxes.
Karen Musial, senior vice president of the auxiliary, said it is hard to rack up the money for the shipping and buying of supplies, but they somehow manage to make it happen.
"People have just been very supportive of our cause," she said. The torch to run the care package activity was handed to her about two years ago. The team presented Musial in April with the first "Auxiliary Member of the Year" award for her hard work and dedication to the project.
The members, who can only be a part of the auxiliary if they are married or related by blood to a Marine, not only reach out to the members of the military in harm's way, but they are also involved with activities at the James Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa and the Baldomero Lopez State Veterans Nursing Home in Land O'Lakes. They assist the Marine Corps League with the Toys for Tots Program and The Operation Little Angel program, among other local charities.
But the care packages are a monthly effort. About a dozen women spend a few hours packing about 10 12- by 12-inch U.S. Postal Service boxes that ship overseas for $12.95 apiece.
Donations from the community helped keep the deliveries going. But Musial said she wishes they could send more.
Each box is addressed to a Marine or soldier whose name appears on a website of an organization supporting overseas troops. Most recipients are men, but occasionally the group picks a woman's name or receives a special request for women's items.
The ladies go shopping at places like Dollar General and buy everything from coffee, beef jerky, peanut butter to all sorts of hygiene products.
Every box shipped now includes a Marine Corps flag along with a special note thanking them for their service.
Musial said the most expensive, but among the most needed products, is masking tape. Many soldiers are living in desert areas, so they often wrap their wrists and ankles in tape so the sand doesn't make its way underneath their uniforms.
Evelyn Joppa, president of the auxiliary, said it feels so nice when they hear back from a soldier or Marine saying how thankful they are for what they are doing. They often e-mail the group and attach pictures of them opening the care packages, or even write a letter.
"But we can't thank them enough for protecting us," Joppa said. "We will continue doing this for as long as we can."
Jacqueline Baylon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (727) 869-6247.