Friday, May 16, 2003
The World in a Shoebox A Carlisle man makes it easy to support our troops
Gracing the interior of David and Joanne Driscoll's custom-designed home on Fiske Street are artifacts acquired on their many trips to such distant locales as Japan, Korea, Iran and Algeria. But in the middle of the living room is a pile of items making their way in the opposite direction: from Carlisle outbound to the heart of Iraq. A jumble of snack foods, packaged tuna, toiletries, batteries and pencils spills out of a cardboard postal box • one of many that the Driscolls will send overseas this month. They are avid participants in the "Operation ShoeBox" project, whose stated mission is to ensure that every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine stationed overseas receives a care package like the one the Driscolls are in the process of assembling.
David Driscoll has done far more than just donate snack foods and toiletries. He has, in effect, put Operation ShoeBox on the map.
Last February, he was watching CNN when something caught his attention. On TV was a story about a woman in Florida, Mary Harper, who had started a program intended to urge Americans to send CARE packages to the troops overseas. As a former army officer with a brother and several nieces and nephews currently deployed to the Mideast, Driscoll has naturally kept a close watch on the recent military engagement in Iraq. What caught his eye that day on CNN wasn't so much the story itself as the "crawler" running across the bottom of the screen, informing viewers how to contact Operation ShoeBox.
"There was just a post office box number," he recalls. "I thought, 'That's kind of crazy, in this day and age. No one's going to bother to write to them for information.'" Without any hesitation as to what he was getting into, Driscoll sent the woman a letter by priority mail offering his services as a website designer. The project organizer quickly accepted. Within days, Driscoll had www.OperationShoeBox.com up and running, and as Harper continued to garner publicity for her efforts, interested parties were directed to the new website.
Maintaining the website
From the time the site was launched, Driscoll had his work cut out for him. Initially, the site received a few hundred hits a day. Driscoll took on the responsibility not only of maintaining the website from a technical standpoint but also of answering or trafficking all the e-mails that the site received.
One day, he opened his inbox to discover that the number of e-mails waiting for him numbered not in the low hundreds but in the thousands. "Mary Harper had appeared on the Today Show that morning and given out the website address," he explains. "It was posted on MSNBC at about the same time, and that was right around when the war began, so everyone wanted to help out." Maintaining the site became a 12-hour-a-day job for Driscoll, who is a self-employed computer training consultant. Unable to respond to or even read so many e-mails himself, Driscoll sought help. His college-aged nieces and nephews and their friends pitched in, as did acquaintances of the Driscolls from all across the U.S.
What to include in the packages is up to the sender, but the website lists dozens of recommended items that troops in the field most appreciate, from toiletries such as razor blades, lip balm and eye drops to diversions such as playing cards, CDs and magazines. Snacks, drink mixes, paper, pens, phone cards and batteries are all popular items as well. Contributors are encouraged to include in the box a self-addressed return postcard, so that they will eventually learn where their gifts ended up. Because the Department of Defense no longer allows mail to be addressed to "any serviceperson" but requires a name and address on every package, the website includes links on how to find names and addresses of servicepeople on duty.
The response has been overwhelming, Driscoll says. A look at the website's guest book shows poignant reactions to the project. Driscoll is attempting to tally how many boxes have been sent overseas. "In Florida, a whole town participated in the project," he says, as did a third-grade class in another town. Corporations have kicked in to the efforts as well. "AFTA Sports sent 500 quick-drying towels, and a shoebox company sent the organizers a huge supply of shoeboxes for packaging." Although the best way for individuals to participate is to pack and send their own boxes (at a cost of generally around $6), Operation ShoeBox is willing to do the packing and sending if people want to send items to their Florida headquarters.
Packages for the K9 unit
As Driscoll explains the project, he and Joanne are busily packing up some boxes of their own. Recently, their efforts took a new twist after a former serviceman who served in the K9 corps in Vietnam contacted the website. "He felt that the dogs in the military never get enough credit. He wanted to know how he could send a package to a K9 unit." Although Driscoll didn't have an answer at the ready, he came up with contact information for a K9 unit. This prompted him and Joanne to start assembling their own doggy care package • donated on behalf of their dog, Lady. "Lady contributed part of her stash of hiking treats. We also included a photo of her for the dogs, so she's a Marine pin-up, now!" The K9 unit's sergeant was appreciative of the Driscolls' interest and she e-mailed them the addresses for five other K9 units.
When they are not knee-deep in shoe boxes, the Driscolls, both computer professionals, devote their time to backpacking, cross-country skiing, motorcycling and enjoying their pets. Joanne spends one night a week as a library volunteer. Traffic to OperationShoeBox.com is gradually slowing down, a development they view with mixed feelings. "It was crazy for a while. Now the job is a little more manageable • a couple of hours a day." At the same time, Driscoll stresses his concern that interest not die off with the end of the war coverage. Even with the war officially over, "troops are stationed over there," he reminds people often. "In Iraq, in Kuwait, in Afghanistan • some of them are there for months on end without receiving anything.
Thanks to the Driscolls, Mary Harper and the thousands of other Americans who have responded to their efforts, every day someone in the military receives a special, unexpected package • a touch of home, complete with rubber snakes and Ramen noodles, amidst the desert sands.
To learn more about Operation ShoeBox or to join the effort yourself, visit OperationShoeBox.com.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito