Seven and a half years and 6,200 packages later, the Brookings-Harbor Red Shirts are hanging up their crimson colored vestments.
“We can’t get enough help,” said Sharon Hitzman, president of the Red Shirts. “We always have enough help for packing and shipping but not enough for all the other stuff that needs to happen. Our group is pretty demanding on volunteers.”
What started as a group of veterans sending phone cards to service members overseas, grew into sending a few care packages until it reached what it is today. The group sent out more than 200 packages in its last shipment, and kept postal workers at the Brookings Post Office busy Friday morning.
Hitzman said when the group started, there were not many people doing what they were doing, but now there are many groups sending care packages to troops, and with the war in Iraq ended and the one in Afghanistan drawing down, the need is less too.
The final package shipment included not only the usual hygiene items and snacks but also Christmas decorations, including stockings made by the Brookings Presbyterian Church.
“We send Christmas decorations, handmade ornaments, anything that makes it feel more like home,” Hitzman said.
The boxes would typically contain beef jerky, coffee, candy, snacks, gift cards to purchase music or phone cards to call home. The group has also sent DVD players to wounded service members in the hospital.
The group sent packages to those with a Brookings or Oregon connection first and then would send them from lists found at www.anysoldier.com.
The group received donations from many businesses and community members, including help from people far away from Brookings; they raised more than $10,000 from the Internet.
“I hope the guys come home soon,” said Lucie La Bonté, one of the volunteers helping to pack boxes on Thursday. “It’s a wonderful thing to do, and we know it is very much appreciated on the other end.”
Another volunteer, Bill Cochran, knows this first hand. Cochran served in the Army during World War II and remembers fondly the care packages he received from his family.
“You have no idea how this is appreciated over there,” Cochran said. “All we were doing was slogging it out in the mud, and to get a package from back home meant the world.”