Salon in a box

Sunday, June 17, 2007
Astrid Houston, left, packed a shipping box with supplies with assistance from Terrie Hellman, center, and Jennifer Eudy. The supplies will be sent to her daughter, LeAnne D. Neal, in Iraq. Along with Susan Owens, the women have started Operation SOFT, Spoil Our Female Troops. (Fred Lynch)

Lotions, nail polish, magazines -- all things one expects to find in a tanning salon. The difference in this case is the items are boxed up and shipped off instead of sold from Sun & Tan on Broadway in Cape Girardeau.

The items are shipped by four Cape Girardeau women who started Operation SOFT (Spoil Our Female Troops). It's a small setup meant to bring the feminine comforts of home to women serving in the military overseas.

Susan Owens, Jennifer Eudy, Terrie Hellman -- owner of the tanning salon -- and Astrid Houston were in the salon "just talking" when Houston mentioned her daughter, LeAnne Neal, who has been in Iraq since February.

Neal serves in the U.S. Marine Corps. Hellman's daughter-in-law is in the Navy. Names of women in the service came tumbling out and the four ladies decided those service members needed to be treated like women.

"We see people everyday pampering themselves," Eudy said. "And we decided to share that."

Personal care items filled a box that will be sent to Iraq through Operation SOFT, Spoil Our Female Troops.

The women are collecting feminine products like tampons, toilet paper, antibacterial gels and wipes and several other grooming items to soften the time overseas.

"Just the simple luxury of having shampoo to wash your hair," Eudy said.

The women made Sun & Tan their base of operation because of the constant stream of customers. Eudy brought in a large pink tub that was quickly filled with magazines, nail polish, lip balms and shaving cream. They have been taking suggestions on needed materials from female soldiers who come into the salon.

"One girl put it to me like this: 'Imagine camping out for over a year and a half. Think about all the things you would miss,'" Hellman said.

Houston, who wears dog tags around her neck with scripture written on them, has been sending her daughter care packages full of jewelry and "stuff to make her feel a little girly."

Neal joined the Marines in 2006. Houston said several family members are in the military and Neal passed on college to join the armed forces.

LeAnne D. Neal

"She was an honor student," Houston said. "But she chose to go into the military."

The women first brought in things for Houston to send to her daughter to share with her fellow female Marines but decided to branch out to the Army, the Navy and the other services.

"It truly is grassroots," said Rev. Bob Towner with the Christ Episcopal Church. "They just decided they can do and they are doing it. I'm proud of them."

Hellman approached Towner at a church rummage sale and told him about Operation SOFT. He immediately donated cocoa butter and other skincare items, women's razors and shampoo.

Towner also agreed to tell his congregation about the effort, but added that the congregation is not the church's only resource. Christ Episcopal hosts weekly recovery meetings for women suffering from addictions.

"I think that those women would be interested in it even if they aren't members of the church," he said.

The church still prays for three members of the congregation with family overseas.

"We're not taking a position on the war," Towner said. "We're taking a position on caring for our kids over there."

Hellman has gotten addresses for other deployed troops and plans to send flat-rate postage boxes full of shampoo, conditioner, razors and nail files. The ladies also list puzzle books, needlepoints and magazines to keep soldiers occupied as needed items.

charris@semissourian.com

573-335-6611 extension 246

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