NEW YORK – Lip balm. Sunscreen. Shampoo. Toothpaste. Tissues.
Everyday items like these are coveted by troops fighting the war in Iraq. Americans who want to show their support can make sure soldiers get them by donating money to organizations that send care packages to the military.
The Defense Department has recently prohibited mailings of parcels and letters to anonymous servicemembers, but has several suggestions of other ways people can contribute.
Operation USO Care Package is among the organizations the DOD recommends. A $25 donation sponsors one care package and personalized card for a soldier. Those wanting to contribute can do so through the Web site or by calling 1-866-USO-GIVE.
The USO ships the packages each day on the deploying troops’ flights. To date 40,000 care packages have been sent, said Sandy Levine, a spokeswoman for the USO of Metropolitan Washington.
"This is a way to show the troops you care," Levine said. "It’s an easy thing to do."
Among the assortment of items that might be included in one of the patriotic packages are a prepaid calling card, a disposable camera, sunscreen, lip balm, shampoo, conditioner, a toothbrush and toothpaste, magazines, non-perishable snacks and candy, CDs and playing cards.
"These are items they’ve requested," said Levine. "The outpouring of support from the American public has been phenomenal. And the troops really, really appreciate it."
The DOD also suggests donating a calling card through Operation Uplink so soldiers can stay connected to family and friends, e-mailing a greeting via Operation Dear Abby or signing a virtual thank-you card at the Defend America Web site.
For the program "Gifts from the Homefront," the Army and Air Force Exchange has partnered with gift certificate company Certifichecks to accept donations for gift certificates the soldiers can use to buy merchandise on bases. For more information, check the Web site or call 1-877-770-GIFT (4438).
Some individual Salvation Army branches, like ones in Indiana, are collecting care packages – though the organization isn’t among those referenced on the DOD site.
In addition, the daily military newspaper Stars and Stripes has a "Messages of Support" program allowing friends and family of deployed servicemembers to e-mail announcements or uplifting notes of 50 words or less to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before the Pentagon recently restricted what could be sent to the troops, schoolchildren across America mailed letters and cards, Girl Scouts sent boxes of cookies and various non-profits shipped needed supplies.
Earlier this month, 90 Red Lobster restaurants in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Missouri got their patrons and staff to donate care packages of toiletries and snacks.
"Employees and guests were really excited about it," said Red Lobster Communications Director Wendy Spirduso. The restaurant chain shipped several hundred boxes to the 95th Division of the Army Reserve.
"I hope it brings some delight to them," Spirduso said. "They’re in harsh conditions. We weren’t trying to take a position on the war. We were just trying to help out the troops."