Operation: Ship Free

Donations sought for veteran items shipping fund

New and used books. Magazines. Baby wipes. Sanitary gel. Tooth paste. Cards. Candy, beans, nuts, beef jerkey, crackers, canned meats.

Ankle collars to keep away sand flees.

For the average consumer, a trip to a local grocery store will take care of acquiring the items listed above. But, for a military veteran serving his or her country in a desert away from home, these simple items are harder to come by.

The community answered the call Saturday for a wish list of common items requested for military veterans. Many donations were acquired during the fourth annual Hometown Heroes Picnic at Craig City Park.

On Monday, PackCenter Shipping office manager Sarah Gilroy sifted and sorted through the items and packaged them into about 25 boxes awaiting transport to the Middle East. Pack Center owner Jim Stoddard said the boxes would be sent out this week.

"I'd like to think we'll get it out (Tuesday)," Stoddard said. "It should be in Afghanistan and Iraq in the next week or so."

The cost of shipping the boxes, which is based on weight and can range from $15 to $60, is offset by another community-based charitable effort -- Operation APO Ship Free.

Stoddard, the fund's organizer, is asking community members and local businesses to again tap into their philanthropic side and donate to the fund. The boxes scheduled for shipment this week will deplete much of the $400 remaining in the fund, he said.

"It's going to be a major hit," he said, "so donations would be greatly appreciated."

In the two years since the Operation APO Ship Free fund was established, community members and businesses have donated thousands of dollars for the several hundred boxes shipped from PackCenter each week.

Donations to the fund go entirely toward shipping costs, Stoddard said.

"We are absolutely diligent about every dollar that comes in," he said. "We don't make a nickel on the deal. It's not about that."

The idea for creating the fund came two years ago when a local woman brought in two boxes for overseas shipment for her son, a veteran. The cost was about $50, a fee that would have strained her budget.

Since then, the community has been generous in its donations to the fund, Stoddard said.

"A lot of the veterans and local people are touched by it," he said. "And it's the least we can do."

Donations to the Operation APO Ship Free account can be made at First National Bank of the Rockies, or at the PackCenter, 509 Yampa Ave.

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