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Campaign sends some love to overseas troops

Uncle Sam isn't calling for your sons and daughters, and there's no talk of food rationing or victory gardens.

But a Bryant Elementary School mom and self-proclaimed former Navy brat is invoking those World War II memories to start a patriotic campaign for American troops overseas.

The effort comes a few weeks after Bryant students sent a care package to a recently deployed father who has been communicating with them via e-mail.

Late last month, Bryant PTA leader Julie Escobar launched Operation Community Cares, a campaign to send more of these goodie-filled care packages to deployed troops who miss the comforts of home.

In a letter sent to schools and posted Feb. 28 on her Web site, www.iloveyoukid.com, Escobar asks students, teachers, community groups and businesses to donate items that will remind U.S. troops of the country they're defending.

"Show Your Spirit!" proclaims the letter, which features the World War II-era image of a pointing Uncle Sam. "Anything that reminds them of HOME SWEET AMERICAN HOME!"

That means letters and drawings from students, magazines, candy, Pringles (the hard container travels well), Girl Scout cookies, even popcorn and DVDs for the troops who have access to microwaves and portable DVD players.

Buccaneers memorabilia is welcome, too, for those who missed out on Super Bowl fever.

"These men and women are a half a world away, without their friends, without their families, without the comforts of home," Escobar said. "They're sleeping on ships, in tents in the desert. They need a boost."

Escobar has three daughters now, but she recalls how difficult it was to say goodbye to her father, a Navy man who spent six to nine months at a time at sea.

"Seeing all the troops from this area deployed, it reminded me of how scared I was when I saw my dad leave," she said. "When you grow up in a military family, this is what you do. You support the people who are supporting you."

Bryant principal Debra Veranth hopes the care packages help her students deal with the uncertainty of war.

"We're fostering a benevolence in the children," Veranth said."It feels good to help in some way, even if it's small."

Escobar sent e-mails to Hillsborough County principals, and several have agreed to set up campus collection boxes. Boxes also will be set up at area businesses, including the Beef O'Brady's and Publix on Hillsborough Avenue, and in the Publix at Citrus Park.

About 24 hours after Escobar launched the care package campaign, two Girl Scout troops signed on to donate cookies. The Dad's Club and PTA at Bryant Elementary agreed to gather donations for postage, and a mailing business owner promised to gather boxes for the packages.

It's not easy finding mailing addresses for deployed troops, given the security surrounding U.S. military activity. In fact, the only way to send a package or letter is to know a specific soldier and the mailing address for his location, said Sgt. Chris Miller, a spokesman for MacDill Air Force Base.

Escobar's father, retired from the Navy but in contact with military personnel, helped get addresses on the condition that Escobar not disclose them. One father, active at Bryant before being sent overseas, gave her several addresses via e-mail and spread the word to other military posts.

"Any time troops get morale packages, it's great for them," Miller said. "It makes this go by a little easier."

Escobar will collect items and donations through Friday, and will start putting together packages the following week.

Interested?

For information, call Julie Escobar at (813) 891-6614 or go to www.iloveyoukid.com/ military.htm

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