America Supports You: It's 'HOT' to Help the Troops
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2005 According to many servicemembers stationed overseas, it's a great feeling to receive a care package, and it's especially nice when the package contains items that you personally requested.
Kristen Maddox, the 21-year-old founder of the nonprofit organization "Helping Our Troops," which sends specialized care packages to troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
In March, Kristen Maddox, a 21-year-old college student from Santa Ana, Calif., launched the nonprofit organization "Helping Our Troops" with that in mind. Her goal is to ship care packages that contain items based solely on troop requests.
"We don't send our favorite items; we send their favorite items," Maddox said.
HOT is made up of a small group of volunteers, mainly Maddox's friends and family, who have doggedly searched for a wide variety of items, including canned sardines, eye goggles and pool cues.
As soon as HOT receives a request from a servicemember, normally via e-mail, the volunteers immediately set out to fill the order, Maddox said. "Once we receive a request, we go shopping. In cases where the items are difficult to find, we continue shopping until we find them," she said.
Some of the requested items have indeed been somewhat difficult to find, but HOT has only failed to deliver on one item thus far.
"We could not find Yakisoba noodles anywhere. We called Asian markets and looked online, but we could not find any," Maddox said. "Other than that, we have been able to find everything, either in stores or online."
All of the items in the HOT care packages are donated or purchased with donated money, she said.
Maddox said the effort has also received a lot of support from other Southern California organizations.
The American Legion of Newport Beach recently donated $1,500; Soroptimist International of Orange, an organization supporting women in management, awarded HOT the "Outstanding Service Award" at their annual awards dinner, which came with a donation of $500; and the local Rotary Club has raised several thousand dollars in direct contributions and through events such as its Fourth of July celebration, she said.
Maddox got the idea to start the nonprofit after learning that a good friend was on his way back to Iraq. "I came up with the idea for HOT on my 21st birthday, the same day that my friend was deployed to Iraq for his third tour, leaving behind his 6-month-old son," she said.
"It made me want to do something," she said. "I felt it was important to support our troops because they are the ones who are ready at a moment's notice to put their lives on the line to protect us."
Coincidently, at the same time her friend was deployed, Maddox had been working on a school project about Operation Iraqi Freedom. She was struck by the fact that many of the troops making sacrifices overseas were her own age, she said.
"The reality that it's mostly my generation over there fighting and dying made me want to do more," she said. "They need to know that there are young people their age who care."
Maddox intends to broaden her work to include veterans outreach. "We have begun working with the veterans hospital in Long Beach in an effort to provide for veterans of all wars," she said.
"We owe our freedom throughout our country's history to the men and women who are willing to step up and fight for it. We should do our part to ensure they know how much we appreciate their sacrifices," she concluded.