Businesses supporting our troops

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Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, a group of civilians purchased Leatherman utility knives for each of the 500 sailors in Jeremy Fineran's department.

"Stuff like that stands out to young men," Fineran's father, Dennis Fineran, said.

Jeremy, a 1996 Moffat County High School graduate, will be discharged from the Navy on Jan. 23. During the time he served as a nuclear technician, his family sent care packages directly to his ship, the U.S.S. Enterprise regularly.

But for people without direct access to troops, a few Yampa Valley residents are creating means to support a soldier overseas.

Jim Stoddard, owner of Pack Center Shipping, is working to lower the shipping costs for people with family serving overseas. He calls the project Operation APO Ship Free. APO is short for Army Post Office.

The idea came to him when a FedEx employee came to his store to ship a pair of boots to a soldier in Iraq. The FedEx driver didn't know the soldier, but all the same, he'd spent $80 or $90 on the boots, Stoddard said.

"That could be part of what inspired me," he said.

Depending on the weight and size of the box, it can cost $40 to $50 to ship a package to Iraq. It's hard to look someone with family serving overseas in the eye and ask them for that amount, Stoddard said.

He is seeking donations, which are placed in an account at the First National Bank of the Rockies and dedicated solely to defraying the cost of shipping care packages to troops.

He said he's received donations from customers, local businesses, and people who he just describes as "angels." With the help of their donations and by taking a 10 percent loss on each shipment, he's able to send packages overseas for less than cost.

Stoddard can be reached at 824-7957.

On Friday, Stoddard announced he'd formed a partnership with Postnet in Steamboat Springs, making Operation APO Ship Free a valley-wide effort.

Two women in Steamboat are trying to do the same with their effort to support soldiers overseas, called "Support the Troops."

Molly Hibbard and Marci Valicenti started Support The Troops after Hibbard's son, Wesley Mottlau, told her how much items such as baby wipes, pillows, and Gatorade mix can boost troop morale.

The pair of women collected the names of soldiers from Steamboat and Hayden who are serving in Iraq and shipped items to them, many at the soldiers' request.

They've shipped 70 pounds of tennis balls to help entertain bomb-sniffing dogs, Valicenti said. They've shipped flypaper to catch the insects that grow intolerable in the Iraqi heat. And they've raised more than $7,000 to ship the packages.

The pair is seeking the names and address of troops serving overseas. They are packaging another shipment Monday with plans to mail it Tuesday, but they hope to send another shipment as soon as they receive enough merchandise.

Donations to Support the Troops are tax deductible and can be dropped off at Prudential Steamboat Realty in Central Park Plaza or Steamboat Real Estate on Yampa Street. Monetary donations, which can be used by Support The Troops to purchase care package items and also to pay for shipping, can be sent to the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, P.O. Box 774965, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477. Checks should specify Support the Troops on the memo line of checks. Support the Troops organizers hope to have enough donations to send the next batch of care packages Tuesday.

For more information, call Valicenti at 879-5000 or Hibbard at 879-8100.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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