By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Not quite three years ago, a woman who regularly wrote to her soldier son hit upon the idea of helping brighten the holidays — and many other days — for other deployed service men and women who seldom, if ever, receive mail from home.
Through the efforts of Roxanne W. Martino and other military moms, Military Parents Operation Support – SOW It, Serving Our Warriors – was established. Since then, the organization has grown to include almost 500 parents and family members of American military personnel, as well as some military personnel themselves.
Atmore resident René Bunch, herself a U.S. Air Force veteran, is one of those members. René, assisted by none other than Santa Claus, continued the Christmas portion of her support effort on Monday (November 29).
“For the most part, I will usually send a box of goodies and a box of toiletries,” she said of her non-holiday mailings. “For this, I just send Christmas food, stockings, toys, games, things like that,” she said as she and Santa delivered 26 boxes to the local post office. “I also send snacks — I use lots and lots of Little Debbie’s (snack cakes).”
Santa obviously enjoyed helping out with such an endeavor.
“The best day of my life is this day; I have taken part in some way or another ever since she started this,” he said, explaining that Mrs. Claus usually joins him but was “supervising the elves on another project.”
Sending such “care packages” to all the nation’s military would be an almost impossible task. Therefore, the recipients belong to a specific group.
“This is just for deployed troops,” René explained. “We try to get the Christmas shipments into the pipeline no later than the first of December. A lot of them who join (the various military branches) don’t have families, and they’re looking for a family. We try to fill this gap.”
Packages are sent year-round to soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and other military personnel who are serving in faraway places. This year the recipients include some in Lithuania (which is one of Europe’s three Baltic states) and in the Mariana Islands (an isolated archipelago in the northern Pacific Ocean).
“I had to really open up the map to find the Mariana Islands,” laughed René. “We don’t send packages to a particular (military) branch. The only requirement is that the person be deployed. We don’t send it to basic training or any stateside bases. Now, if a person is stationed up in Alaska, we will send something there.”
The cost of filling and mailing a package is roughly $100. René foots most of the bill herself, although she said help in various forms comes from several individuals and groups.
“Most of it comes from my money,” she said. “But Santa and his wife donate some, and the Mormon ladies at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (in Atmore) donated the stockings. We get donations from different folks. I just put out a call on Facebook.”
She added that friends and acquaintances from as far away as Georgia chipped in to help finance this year’s mailing, which included about 200 packages over the course of the year.
“People can still donate if they want to,” said René. “We send packages to addresses we get 12 months out of the year from a particular troop whose commander asks us to send it to his troop. We get other military moms to join, and sometimes the troops themselves will give us names.”
The operation includes more than just packages, though. Cards are sent and prayers are shared on a regular basis, too.
The warmth associated with such a project of giving seems to spread, too.
“This is my first time helping Santa with packages to servicemen,” said Postal Clerk Leah Jones, who has been with the U.S. Postal Service less than a year. “I think this is the most fun I’ve had in the past couple of weeks.”
Anyone wishing to assist René in her mission may do so by sending a private message to her Facebook page or by calling 251-359-4039.