Deployed Guardsmen to receive care packages

Janet Shepard, left, and Julie West, both Missouri National Guard 35th Engineer Brigade Family Readiness Group volunteers, hold up care packages that will be sent to deployed Missouri Guard engineers in front of the Fort Leonard Wood armory. (Courtesy photo)

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- Deployed Missouri National Guard engineers should receive a little something extra in their stockings this year.

The Missouri National Guard's 35th Engineer Brigade Family Readiness Group recently put together and mailed 83 boxes filled with donated goodies, like chips, crackers, popcorn, beef jerky, Ramen noodles, batteries and assorted toiletries, which should reach all currently deployed Missouri Guard engineers about a week before Christmas.

The majority of the packages will go to Capt. Jason Davis, commander of the 1138th Engineer Company Sappers, of Farmington, to distribute amongst his troops at Forward Operating Base Frontenac in Afghanistan.

Although Janet Shepard, lead volunteer for the unit's Family readiness group, said care packages are always nice for Guardsmen and other military members to receive - especially around the holidays - these packages will be greatly welcomed.

"Most of these guys do not have easy access to a post exchange store where they are stationed," Shepard said. "It will give them the opportunity to have some of the comforts of home."

The remaining packages were sent to Missouri Guard engineers currently attached to other deployed units.

Shepard and six other volunteers spent more than six hours sorting and then packaging the items in flat-rate, priority boxes from the U.S. Post Office. The group also had to fill out customs forms listing all the contents for each of the 83 boxes.

"I really appreciate the help from all our volunteers, as well as the efforts of Frito Lay to make these care packages for our deployed Guardsmen possible," Shepard said.

The group then took the packages to the post office and spent more than two hours checking them in to be mailed. Shepard said the post office gave a $2 discount on each box because they were being sent to an Army Post Office address. Shepard added that the total shipping and handling bill of $1,125 was picked up by Frito Lay, who spearheaded the collection of the items.

Shepard said most of the packages will be sent by air, but a few others, mostly filled with chips, had to be sent by boat because they couldn't handle the pressurization of air travel. Those packages will likely arrive after the holidays.

This is the second consecutive year Frito Lay has collected donations for care packages in their Mid-Missouri Zone to be sent overseas to deployed troops as part of the Midwest Region Support Our Troops event.

Brandon Harbison helped unite the Frito Lay program with Missouri Guard engineers through the relationship he has with his brother, Spc. Carl Harbison Jr., a member of the Missouri Guard's 235th Engineer Detachment Construction Design Team, which falls under and shares an armory with the 35th Engineer Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood.

"My connection with my brother being there at the Guard worked out really well," said Brandon Harbison, of Frito Lay in the Cape Girardeau area. "We were excited about the success of it."

The event is put together by the company's Valor Group.

"The group's purpose is to recognize, appreciate and support military members and their Families within Frito Lay and Pepsi Company, as well as the communities that we serve," Harbison said.

Frito Lay teamed with retailers within their Midwest Region, which covers southern Iowa and all of Missouri, except metro St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield, to set up collection points over a two-week period. The company also worked with American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts within those communities where representatives from the posts, Frito Lay and sometimes the retail store itself manned booths at the front of the store in two-to-four hour blocks to let shoppers know about the program.

"We can't do it by ourselves," Harbison said. "Without everyone involved, it would make the event less successful. We pride ourselves as salesmen, but the stores that had the VFW and American Legion people there as representatives, those stores did better.

"It's kind of a partnership between several groups of people. We'd like to do this every year. Several stores have asked to do it again because it sheds a good light on their business."

Having the booths was crucial, Harbison said, as 90 percent of the donations were collected within those blocks, despite the stores accepting donations at anytime throughout the two weeks.

With people at the booths, Harbison said it opened a dialogue with the customers.

"People would come up and tell me how their son, or daughter, or nephew is deployed overseas or they had deployed in the past," he said. "They got it. They understood the reason for doing this and were willing to help out. It was a good touch point with the public and it shows how they want to support our Soldiers."

Harbison said the Wal-Mart in Perryville was among the stores that operated a booth most often and it collected between a third and half of the donations itself.

"When we closed the event, they said they will do this again," Harbison said. "It was very successful and really gratifying to see the partnership with the stores."

At the booths, people could pick up a one-page list of approved donation items that was shortened from four pages, to make it quicker and easier on the shopper. Harbison said some people donated money that was then used to purchase donation items.

During the two weeks of the program, Frito Lay also coincidentally offered coupons for buy two, 20-count bags of chips and get a free eight-pack of crackers that many patrons used to help with the donations. Harbison said some folks donated the crackers, or the chips, or both.

In addition to the donations, letters to the Soldiers from elementary students in Piedmont were collected and sent with the care packages.

All the donations and letters were then sent to the Frito Lay store in Rolla, where manager Kenny Rayfield loaded them into a truck and brought them to the 35th Engineer Brigade armory at Fort Leonard Wood for the unit's Family readiness group to sort, package and send.

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For more information about this release, please contact Matthew J. Wilson at 573-638-9500 EXT. 4706 or e-mail him at