Since 2004, PRMS staff have been actively supporting the United States troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq by sending care packages and letters.
The project began when Melanie Smith, Senior Vice President, learned from Margo Adams, Executive Director of the Florida Psychiatric Society, that her son, a United States Marine, was being deployed to Afghanistan. Ms. Smith asked to be informed if any Marines were not receiving letters or care packages from home. Once Ms. Smith received a list of names the PRMS Support the Troops Project was born!
The enthusiasm of PRMS staff was - and continues to be - instant and overwhelming. This completely voluntary effort includes staff donating funds for postage or providing items to ship. Other staff spend their lunch break packing the boxes and wielding the mighty tape dispenser gun to ensure a sturdy package. Customs forms are completed at one end of the table while other volunteers sort items for inclusion in each box.
Ms. Smith and Donna Vanderpool, Vice President, coordinate the effort within PRMS and have expanded it to others outside the company. For instance, Ms. Vanderpool’s mother, Juan Vanderpool, has worked tirelessly for this effort contributing items to be sent, wrapping candy and goodies in baggies to protect them from the sand and dirt, rolling coins collected for postage, and always making homemade brownies as a treat for those packing the boxes.
Ms. Smith’s sister, an elementary school teacher, reached out to all the third grade classes in her school one December and invited the children to write holiday cards and notes. Not only did the children create cards and messages, they also donated their holiday money to purchase socks and hats for the soldiers serving in Iraq. For Valentine’s Day, the third graders again donated socks accompanied by very special cards and letters.
When PRMS staff travel, they have often asked flight crews and passengers on planes to sign cards and notes for the soldiers. One letter was sent to Iraq with bright red kisses from a flight attendant who applied lipstick just to give the soldier a special hello!
The first group of Marines served in both Afghanistan and Iraq and the PRMS team was with them all the way. When they returned stateside after their final tour of duty, PRMS staff continued the effort by outreaching to co-workers' relatives who were deployed. Later, staff also worked with sending care packages to troops identified through the website www.anysoldier.com.
In 2008, PRMS staff sent packages to a unit in Afghanistan where the soldiers often interacted with children. Courtesy of PRMS, there are several children in Afghanistan with Beanie Babies, Nerf footballs, and school supplies. PRMS received a letter of commendation from the United States Army for its support of this unit.
Some of the most requested items have included powdered drink mix, health-related magazines, cookies, granola bars, hand-wipes, sunscreen, eye drops, foot powder, and puzzles. Care packages have often included “stress relievers” such as the always popular Slinky, water balloons, and yo-yos. Sometimes staff sent materials for birthday parties - paper plates, napkins, and even the goofy birthday hats. But servicemen and women have responded by saying that a friendly letter from home is the most treasured gift of all.
This project has been both heartwarming and humbling to PRMS staff. The best moments have come from letters received from servicemen and women who are grateful for a care package even though staff may consider it to be simply a small gesture of thanks for their service.
A sampling of responses PRMS has received from soldiers:
|”Thanks for all your support! The boxes have been coming in left and right! You guys are great! I actually was able to do a little humanitarian aid mission on my own the other day with the toys you sent. There happened to be an Afghan family on the base with their Dad who is a soldier. I ran back to my room and got them some of the stuffed animals, they were very pleased!”|
“Thank you so much for your packages. We received them a few days ago and I have been meaning to write but we have been really busy. Everything you sent was put to good use. You and your company bring so much joy that it’s hard to say in an email. Sorry this email is short but I have a ton of work that I have to finish up. Thank you again.”
“Thank you for your support. It is hard being over here away from your family. I know I missed my daughters’ first b-day but what I am doing is more important. It makes a better future for her.”
When we asked what we can provide, one Marine wrote back:
“Just a friendly letter does fine.”
We learned what to send the village children from a soldier serving in Afghanistan:
“The kids also really liked yo-yos and little games like that. It also allows us time to interact with them while we teach them how to use them.”
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Notes from third graders:
Happy Valentines Day! I know I'm just a 3rd grader but I support you all the way. United we stand. Divided, well we don't stand.
What do you like in the Marines? Have you shot the canon and the machine gun? Have you been to every state? Do you like motorcycle and ATVs. Please write back.
I made a big snowman but its head fell off. Did you know I turned nine last month? I wish you could come home for Christmas.
What is the food like in Iraq? I went to church yesterday and got a really long necklace. My Mom wrapped five presents. On Christmas I might get a guitar. My dad went to Denver and he came back today. I'm happy. My dad isn't going to work today he is going to lay in bed all day. Oh and my necklace is blue. I come from Mexico. My brother only eats junk food like pizza.
I hope you win the war and have a Merry Christmas.
PRMS thanks our troops for their service to our country, as well as the dedicated psychiatrists and mental health professionals who care for our troops - both active duty and veterans. We are pleased to support Give an Hour, a nonprofit organization that provides free mental health services to U.S. military personnel and families, and Purple Heart Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides support to ease the transition of veterans returning home.