Group Officially Moves Into New Home

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

PHOENIX, Nov. 3, 2006 - In grand fashion, "Packages From Home" welcomed dignitaries and guests to the grand opening of its new digs on the Phoenix Memorial Hospital campus yesterday.

Packages From Home is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program highlighting ways Americans and the corporate sector support the nation's servicemembers.

With humble beginnings in its founder's garage, the group focuses on sending care packages of food, as well as comfort and entertainment items, to troops serving overseas. Since its inception in November 2004, the organization has grown tremendously, David Whitten, Packages From Home's marketing director said.

"I never realized that I'd be standing here today in front of a center that's 3,500 square feet and sends 2,500 care packages a month," he told the group of about 50 gathered for the ceremony. "This is all from a mother's labor of love."

Kathleen Lewis founded Packages From Home while her son, Army Sgt. John Christian Lewis, was serving in Iraq. She began by shipping 25 to 30 packages. As the number of donations and, consequently, packages grew, so did the need to find a home more permanent than volunteers' garages.

The search led them to Phoenix Memorial Hospital, which has provided the group a facility with a one-year lease. "Lease," however, is a relative term since the group is incurring no cost for the use of the building, Whitten said. Renewing the lease for a second year, and perhaps longer, also is possible.

"I see us here for a long time," Whitten said.

That's a good thing for the group that now has space to sort and pack all its donations in the same building, Lewis said. She added that it's also good for those who work with Packages From Home. "It is good for your heart," she said. "It's good for your soul, and ultimately, it's very good for the United States of America."

Retired Army Lt. Col. Dawn Lake vouched for the fact that Packages From Home is a good thing for servicemembers as well.

"I was one of the lucky ones. There were lots of people who served there who did not have family," she said. "So when you do send a package, it's very possible that someone's getting a package who perhaps never got one, and if it were not for you, they would not get one."

Lake was a beneficiary of Packages' efforts while she served in Afghanistan, and though she had a sizeable support system back home, she still appreciated getting those packages. That included the packages of "girly things," which she said she never had time to use. She did, however, find they had a significant value in other ways.

"In this box was a pair of pink flip-flops with purple plastic flowers on them, and they were quite 'not military' to put it mildly," she said, chuckling about the reaction she surely would have gotten from her male counterparts had she worn them to the shower tent.

"What occurred to me when I looked at those and this whole package of really lovely things was that I could give them to the women of Afghanistan," Lake said. "To see the look on the faces of the women, the children and the parents of those children in the villages that we went out to ... you talk about winning the hearts and minds."

Army Sgt. Arthur Walker agreed that getting a delivery from Packages From Home meant a lot, and the packages that included something for the local children were extra special.

"Just being able to give out candy and stuff to kids, we always felt that kept our area a little bit safer," Walker said. "On behalf of all the soldiers over there, I want to say thank you."

Roxie Merritt, a retired Navy captain who now works for Public Affairs in the Pentagon, also offered the group praise on behalf of the America Supports You program.

"Everything you're doing is so important to our troops," she said. "You are supporting the finest military men and women in the history of this nation."

The ceremony started with the presentation of the colors by a Marine Corps color guard and Jordan Leigh's performance of her musical tribute to the troops, "Soldier I Thank You." It concluded with guests breaking in the new facility by filling care packages for the troops.

"It's the most exhausting, but most rewarding, job I've ever had," Peg Gildersleeve, a Packages From Home regular volunteer, said as she instructed new packers on how to fill every bit of space in a care package.

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