Arizona Group Sends Piece of Home to Troops

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 20, 2007 - What started out as a way for an Arizona Army mom to support her deployed son has turned into a nonprofit organization that sends about 2,500 care packages to servicemembers each month.

"Packages From Home gives to our (servicemembers) in harm's way, which would be Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea, Cuba and the Sudan, the necessary things that they would like to have to make their stay more comfortable and to give them a bit of home," Kathleen Lewis, the group's founder, said.

Packages From Home is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with members of the military and their families at home and abroad.

The group's efforts have earned it the Arizona Governor's Commission on Service and Volunteerism 2006 Volunteer Service Award. The Volunteer Service Awards were established in 2002 to recognize and thank Arizonans who have given their time and talents to help solve social problems, according to a news release from Gov. Janet Napolitano's office.

"The strength, will and determination of the thousands of volunteers throughout Arizona who tirelessly give of their time and energy should be an inspiration to everyone," Napolitano said in the release. "I am proud to honor the individuals, groups and businesses whose exceptional work and dedication serve to strengthen Arizona and improve the lives of its citizens."

Lewis will accept the award on behalf of Packages From Home on April 27.

Packages From Home was born in March 2004 when Kathleen Lewis learned from her son, Army Sgt. Christian Lewis, that there were other soldiers in his unit not receiving anything from back home. She and some friends decided to adopt his unit and the organization began shipping about 30 packages a month.

As Packages From Home begins its fourth year, that number is up to about 2,500 packages a month, Lewis said.

"The holiday months, we try and send 5,000 a month," she said. "Last year we were right at 15,000 packages for the holidays."

The packages contain everything from food and necessities to entertainment and comfort items. The group even recently sent a six-foot fiberglass dog bone-shaped swimming pool full of goodies for military working dogs in Iraq.

For requests for assistance that don't fit Packages From Home's mission, Lewis said she relies on the group's America Supports You membership.

"Networking within (America Supports You) is terrific," she said. "If my group doesn't fit someone's needs, I certainly know a group that will fit their needs."

As a member of America Supports You, the group also takes every opportunity to spread the word about the Defense Department's program to Arizona's large seasonal tourist population.

"Very often while they're here, they help Packages From Home," she said. "When they go home, they want to help their home state, and I'm able to say, 'Go to America Supports You.'"

Lewis added that she's learned more about what the servicemembers face overseas beyond what's conveyed in the news through the membership as well.

"I've become a much better American by listening to (America Supports You) to understand what's going on," she said.

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