Box of Blessings

When the idea to send boxes of items to troops oversees was conceived in 2002, Tracy Post had no idea her kind gesture would evolve into the operation it is today. Post’s son, Staff Sgt. Jim Post, was in the military and knew first-hand what it was like to be deployed far from home, away from loved ones. He also knew how much the troops overseas needed encouragement and support. With the help of her son, Post began collecting names of military personnel with the plan to send care packages to them. “He (Jim) gave me two names, then four and soon it was 12,” Post described. As her list of names grew, so did the need for help organizing, packing and shipping boxes.

SALUTE, which stands for Sending Appreciation and Love with Unending Thoughts of Esteem, now includes Cindi Blankespoor and Rhonda LeLoux as well as Post, who coined the acronym. All three women have loved ones who served in the United States military, making the project very close to the heart. “This project is so dear to me,” said Post, her passion and excitement evident and contagious.

Post used the basement of her rural Doon farmhouse to carry out her mission until December 2015 when the city of Doon donated a room in the former school building. A thankful Post moved the operation and gained the much-needed space to store, organize and pack the boxes. “I have to compliment the city of Doon for doing this,” she said. “It’s just fabulous.”

Post will tell you there is much more that goes into the project than most may know and if you visit the SALUTE room, the “love that goes into the boxes is overwhelming.” It’s that love and appreciation the women aim to share with troops. “We want to help the troops however we can.” This help comes in the form of hygiene items, non-perishable food items, cards, crossword puzzles, spiritual material, insoles for shoes, and the list goes on. Once SALUTE receives a name of a service member that will be deployed overseas, the group will pack and send a box, often times once a month as long as the individual is deployed. “We will take names from all branches of the military and we will send boxes anywhere oversees,” Post says. SALUTE relies solely on word of mouth to compile names of men and women serving. “If any of the readers know of someone, or someone who knows someone serving, all they need to do is send us their name, location and estimated timeframe of when they will be back in the States,” explained Blankespoor.

“They do not have to be from Iowa … we have names from Florida to Arizona,” she said. “As long as they are serving our military overseas, we would be honored to send them a box from home.”

But according to Post, it’s more than just mailing a box. Handwritten notes are attached to every item that is packed and sent, making the SALUTE project unique. “The notes come from the heart,” says Post. Nursing homes, schools, daycares, businesses, churches and individuals have taken time to write these notes. Some are as simple as saying “thank you” while others may include a Bible verse or other positive affirmation. Post wants to make sure that each item has a positive, uplifting message for those troops who are serving the country, in often bleak and unknown circumstances. “They have given up so much and we want to encourage them anyway we can,” said Post of the extra touch added to each box.

With the holidays just around the corner, the SALUTE group is busy packing Christmas boxes with everything needed to bring cheer to the troops while they are far from home. “We send Christmas lights that they can hang in the barracks,” said Post. Each box also contains a Christmas tree, ornaments, hot chocolate and other Christmas snacks reminiscent of home. “They all get a warm, handmade quilt at Christmas,” added Post while folding a quilt that is ready to offer comfort and warmth to someone’s loved one in the military.

Many things have kept the three women carrying on the mission of SALUTE over the years. One is the “letter after letter” thanking SALUTE for the care packages. Troops have shared many stories of their experiences oversees in letters Post keeps in a binder, including one from a Sgt. Hagen who served in Kuwait. Whether it was divine intervention or just good timing, Post recalls the story about Hagen’s troops having a fire in the tents and losing everything. The very next day the boxes from SALUTE arrived to the group for troops and Hagen distributed them to the troops. After he was back on home ground, Hagen told SALUTE, “You’ll never know the impact these boxes had on the men.”

It’s an impact SALUTE hopes to continue. From March 2003 to August 2017, a total 5,076 boxes have been sent. “I can’t take an ounce of credit,” expressed Post. “It’s everybody and without the help of many, this would not be possible,” she said. “Thank you to everyone who has helped.”

While the program accepts donations of items or money any time of the year, with the holiday boxes ready to ship soon monetary donations are greatly appreciated and needed currently. A regular box costs $17.35 to ship and Christmas boxes can be as much as $35 to ship one box. “Any help financially and by supplying items to mail is greatly appreciated,” said Blankespoor. To help facilitate the receipt of donations, a drop-off table for items will be available in Larchwood during the annual St. Mary’s Church Full of Goodies event Saturday, Oct. 28. Raffle tickets for a chance to win a fleece tie blanket, courtesy of the Larchwood American Legion Auxiliary, will also be available.

Anyone interested in donating items, supporting SALUTE financially or providing a name of a deployed service member may contact the women by email at SALUTE@usa.com or by sending donations and names to SALUTE, P.O. Box 117, Doon, Iowa 51235.

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