Seniors Send Cheer to Soldiers in Iraq

When Miyoko Fairman was a sixth-grader in Japan during World War II, her class shipped a box of presents to her older brother, who was serving in the Japanese army. Fairman, now 76 and living in Bowie, is again helping send cheer to a soldier at war, but this time she has filled a dragon-covered shoebox with toiletries for a U.S. soldier in Iraq (search).

Fairman and 36 other seniors are part of the Bowie Senior Center's (search) Adopt-a-Soldier program, which sends shoeboxes of goodies through Fort Meade and on to Army Reserve units deployed from there to Iraq.

"Soldiers are always in need of items being sent from home," said Sharon Collins, a relocation readiness program manager in the Army community service division at Fort Meade (search). "Now that the holiday season has wound down, it is perfect timing."

She said the boxes will go to one of three or four units in charge of rebuilding infrastructure, utilities and the local government in Iraq.

Kathy White, assistant program manager at the Bowie center, organized the project. She gave seniors lists of 25 items, from Lipton soup to lip balm, and gave them four weeks to fill their boxes.

"It really gives them a sense of spirit, camaraderie, that the seniors can help in any way," White said. "When I told the seniors about Fort Meade, they said, 'Wow, that's right here at home.'"

Army spokeswoman Martha Rudd (search) said the center was right to work with Fort Meade on the project. People who tried to send items directly to soldiers in the past "really clogged up the mail" — so much so that soldiers could not get mail from loved ones, Rudd said.

The Army does not keep track of all the support, but Rudd said there are hundreds of organizations running other efforts. "The Army really appreciates the incredible outpouring," she said.

The Bowie Adopt-a-Soldier program began in 2003, when participants sent 150 plastic bags filled with soap, stationery and other small items to a unit in Iraq during the Christmas holidays.

This year's project was smaller in scale, but White said it establishes a local connection that could be the foundation for future projects.

"The seniors are very creative," she said. "Whatever we can do, we'll do."

Ikiko Stribling, 68, who likes to play cards and swap stories with Fairman about growing up in Japan, participated in the 2003 program and turned in her shoebox for the latest program a few weeks ago.

Stribling walked to the drugstore near her Bowie home for items such as beef jerky, sunscreen and ballpoint pens, then packed all she could into a Naturalizer shoebox.

"I think we should support the troops with whatever we can do; it's nothing really expensive," Stribling said. Margie Golway, 65, filled her box with the help of her Sunday school class at Belcroft Bible Church in Bowie. The New Carrollton resident said seven members of her class brought in items, and she took the center's shuttle to a Safeway store to buy smaller offerings, such as a sewing kit.

Golway said she has already asked White when the seniors will get involved again. White said the next project with Fort Meade might include working with local wounded soldiers.

Fairman is convinced every little bit helps. “When I think about the soldiers, I know they appreciate it," she said, adding that she wishes she had stuck a letter in the box with her name on it.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.