America Supports You: State, Companies Pool Efforts
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2004 Proving that all it takes is a little ingenuity and teamwork to get things done, Orbitz, the Illinois lieutenant governor's office, La Salle Banks and Operation Support Our Troops have pooled efforts and resources to support deployed troops.
Eric Schuller, senior policy adviser to Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, said the endeavor began when Orbitz approached the lieutenant governor's office. The Chicago- based online travel company had been sending packages to some of its employees' family members deployed to Iraq. The response was good, and the company felt it wanted to broaden the scope of the project.
"So they contacted our office and said, 'We want to do this on a bigger scale,'" Schuller said.
The lieutenant governor's office had worked with Orbitz before, and the company had been helpful in getting plane tickets to Washington for military families to visit wounded loved ones recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., he said.
Initially, the thought was to place drop boxes at La Salle Banks in Chicago around Veterans Day and to leave them for a week. La Salle Banks officials suggested that drop boxes be placed in all 125 branches throughout the Chicago area for two weeks.
The response to the request for care package items was overwhelming, Schuller said. Though the donation period has ended, volunteers still are collecting the goods. "So far they've filled about a 2,500-square-foot warehouse," he said.
An Orbitz offer of a chance to win one of 25 roundtrip tickets for donating goods certainly played a part in the huge turnout. Schuller said a code was given to each donor. That code could then be entered at the Orbitz Web site for a chance at the free airfare.
Various organizations and schools caught wind of the effort and held their own collection drives. At the end of the individual drives, the goods were taken to a participating bank branch.
"We had Fischer Nuts call up and say, 'OK, we have five palettes of peanuts. Where do you want them delivered to?'" Schuller said.
Now it's up to a group called Operation Support Our Troops to package and ship the goods to deployed troops. The group is the Illinois chapter of an organization founded in Rhode Island by a couple of mothers whose sons attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
OSOT, Schuller said, was a little nervous about finding the funds to ship so many packages. It's a volunteer group that supports its efforts through fund- raising. They receive no subsidies.
"To their credit, La Salle Bank and Orbitz stepped up and, between the two of them, were giving (OSOT) $9,000," he said.
The group figures that the $9,000 should cover nearly all of the postage. That's at an estimate of $20 a box for roughly 450 boxes, but goods are still being collected.
That just leaves figuring out whom to send the packages to and that, too, is under control. The group works closely with the military chaplain corps. The chaplains supply names of troops who aren't getting much mail, or they accept the packages directly and distribute them.
This effort isn't a one-time deal though, Schuller said. He said that at least two other banks have expressed interest in participating in a similar drive. He expects to have care package goodies for a while, however, and suggested that perhaps the next collection drive would be in May.
The lieutenant governor's office serves as an intermediary between organizations such as the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund and veterans and their families. Many organizations are listed on the Operation Home Front Web site.