Have you ever put together a care package for a son or daughter at college? Multiply that by 260 and you can begin to comprehend the undertaking of the Pleasanton Military Families Support Group for the holiday "pack out" for troops deployed in war zones.
"I can tell you that these boxes and the items contained within each box will help make their day during this holiday season as these men and women serve our country several thousands of miles away from the USA," said Chris Miller, founder of the support group.
"We're mailing more than one box to each and they'll share them," explained chairwoman Pat Frizzell. "Sadly some are not getting things from home."
Collecting thousands of items, loading them into 12-inch by 12-inch by 5-1/2-inch boxes, and mailing the packages is a huge project, even for a group with dedicated members. Donations come from everywhere -- Realtors, schools, Rotary clubs, to name a few.
"My phone was ringing off the hook all last week, people wanting to drop stuff off," co-chair Tracey Buescher said Monday morning.
"Probably a lot more work went into the organization than the actual packing," she noted.
Two weeks ago women gathered at the home of Azadeh Aryana, whose son is in the Army. Their mission that day was to fill out mailing labels and customs forms to accompany 150 boxes.
Then Friday was the "pre-pack." Volunteers gathered in the late afternoon to organize donations at the contributed office space at Hopyard and Valley. Tables were labeled by categories, and truckloads of items were separated accordingly.
Finally, Saturday about 60 people showed up to pack the boxes.
"We had a great turnout," Buescher said. "People came who'd heard what was going on -- and some people strolled in off the street."
The mission took place with military precision. Afterward Frizzell sent out a timeline:
* 2:20 p.m. The first empty box was handed out.
* 3:05 p.m. The last of the 260 empty boxes was handed out.
* 4:15 p.m. Cars were loaded with boxes for the post office.
Buescher remembers the first pack out in 2003 when her husband Marine Col. Chris Buescher, who was in the Reserves, was activated and sent to Iraq.
"The first one in 2003 was out of my house," recalled Tracey Buescher. "We would send out 50 boxes and think, 'Wow! That's amazing.' It grew to 75, 90 and 135, until this year it was 260."
They had 50 names on the list this year, she explained, and were planning to send a few boxes to each so they could be shared with those who return from mail call each day empty-handed.
"When we saw how many donations and how much money were rolling in, we said, 'Let's kick it up another 50,'" she said. "Somebody ran home and got more boxes, and moms quickly filled out more customs forms."
Although Col. Buescher is near retirement from the Marine Reserves, he and Tracey continue working with the military families.
"We've been there and know what it's like," Tracey Buescher said. "We know that feeling in the pit of your stomach 24/7, not knowing if they're safe."
This year the group also sent out a dozen 3-foot-tall Christmas trees with decorations, and 12 boxes of lighted garlands, complete with candy canes and Santa hats.
They also send packages for Easter and the Fourth of July. In October they did an emergency pack out to Afghanistan.
"A group of Marines was involved in heavy fighting every day," Buescher said, "and there were quite a few casualties."
Parents from Pleasanton relayed their circumstances and the fact that they'd said it would help to receive socks and chocolate.
"We launched into overdrive on that one," Buescher said. "We bought Halloween candy and socks and turned it into a Halloween thing. They did receive them and were thrilled with them."
The Pleasanton Military Families Support Group also sponsors the Yellow Streamer program on Main Street where each resident in the military has a yellow streamer with his or her name, rank and branch of service. For further information, contact Frizzell at PleasantonMilitaryFamilies@gmail.com.
Every package sent to the troops this week included about 20 letters, Buescher said, most of them from students. She recently heard a soldier talk to a group of children, explaining that in the evenings deployed troops don't have TV to watch or video games to play.
"For entertainment we sit in a circle and read letters from you kids," Buescher recalled him saying. "That's our entertainment."
"The letters are huge," Buescher said, "especially from their hometown."
After the 260 boxes were packed, some leftover items were reboxed to be saved for the Easter pack out. Tables were returned to the organizations that had loaned them. The office space was vacuumed, bathrooms were cleaned, the lights were turned out and the doors were locked.
"It was the Super Bowl of pack outs for sure," chairwoman Frizzell emailed supporters. "Remember, a little joy goes a long way when you are so far from home at Christmas."