More than just about anyone else outside the gates of MacDill Air Force Base, Mark Van Trees is paying close attention to news about where U.S. troops are headed.
With the Pentagon and White House talking about increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan next year, and incremental upticks already under way in Iraq and Syria, Van Trees is worried.
That's because Van Trees, 60, runs Support the Troops, a Wesley Chapel-based organization that sends items such as toiletries and snacks to troops around the globe. While there is no shortage of goodies being donated, the organization is running out of money to mail the stuff, he said.
That's because the price of postage keeps going up.
Each month, the organization — based at the warehouse of Sifter Inc., a company that makes equipment and filter bags for the baking industry — sends out about 115 packages. At $54 per 40-pound package, the organization is spending $6,210 each month just on postage.
"What we need most is money," said Van Trees, a former business owner well-known in military and veteran circles for charitable and service efforts. "The post office has raised rates every year for the past four years, and we don't get a break or a subsidy, even though we are sending things to the troops."
The need remains great, said Van Trees, and was exacerbated by drawdowns in both Iraq and Afghanistan that meant even the most basic morale-inducing items, such as coffee pots and microwaves, are often no longer available because they've been shipped home.
Van Trees said his organization is shipping packages to the 10th Mountain Division in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, to more than 30 Green Beret units, and to many other units all over.
A recent deployment of A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthogs" meant that a search and rescue squadron needed to ship forward. And so now Support the Troops is shipping 1,200 pounds a week of goods to those units, Van Trees said.
The five most requested items are coffee, razors, toothpaste, white tube socks and beef jerky, said Van Trees.
"It's pure protein," he said. "The troops just grab a handful, throw it in to the rucksack and they have something to keep them going."
Cookies, energy drinks, snacks, peanuts and sunflower seeds are also popular, said Van Trees.
Support the Troops has been in operation for 15 years. It was started by Bob Williams, who owns Sifter Inc. Van Trees took over four years ago after Williams suffered a serious brain injury when a pole fell on him at the warehouse.
For more information, or to make a donation, contact Van Trees at firstname.lastname@example.org or via snail mail at P.O. Box 7587, Wesley Chapel, FL 33545.
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On Wednesday, there will be a happy hour fundraiser at the Aloft for the Veterans Art Center Tampa Bay.
Put on by the Professional Philanthropist Network, the event will benefit an organization that highlights the artistic talents of veterans.
The Veterans Art Center Tampa Bay is dedicated to providing opportunities for military and veterans to develop and showcase creative and artistic accomplishments. As veterans and their families transition to civilian life, the Veterans Art Center is supporting their need for creative as well as economic outlets.
The fundraiser is from 6 to 9 p.m. at Aloft Tampa Downtown hotel, 100 W Kennedy Blvd. More information is on Facebook, search VACTB.
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The Pentagon announced no new deaths last week in its ongoing overseas operations.
There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, 21 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the followup, Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan, and 16 troop deaths and one civilian death in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
Contact Howard Altman at email@example.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman