There’s more to NCPacks4Patriots care packages than candy and cards. Each box the organization sends overseas is packed with care and love.
The original organization began in 2004 when a church group created Christmas care packages for deployed troops, said director Barbara Whitehead. After completing its original mission, the Greenville, North Carolina-based group decided to make it a year-round initiative and partnered with a national organization.
“At that time, we thought Desert Storm was only going to be 90 days, so we said let’s give it six months,” said Whitehead.
Over 12 years later, the organization is still going strong. Their partnership with the national organization ended in 2012 and the group created their own non-profit, NCPacks4Patriots.
They provide for all branches of the military, and give support for troops in training missions, welcome homes, Family events and more, Whitehead explained.
One of NCPacks4Patriot’s biggest endeavors is its annual Halloween candy buyback with dental offices. They receive between 8,000 and 9,000 pounds of candy to distribute to service members.
“That is a huge undertaking,” Whitehead said. “We inspect all candy and follow military guidelines for care packages.”
Volunteers separate the candy into chocolate and all other types. The organization sends chocolate in the winter so it doesn’t melt in the heat of summer.
Another key event for the group is its Christmas program. According to Whitehead, the goal of the program is to ensure that all troops have a small “taste and touch” of Christmas.
Whitehead said that throughout the year, her organization partners with military chaplains because they reach a large number of service members.
“It is easy to have them as a point of contact and serve 500 to 1,000 troops through that one contact,” she said. “We also like to make sure our troops who are in remote locations with limited services get first priority. The chaplains will let us know that they have 10 teams they are seeing in a remote location and we can provide packages for them.”
Whitehead emphasized that the group understands and follows all operational security regulations and never shares information about the location of service members downrange.
“We want to make sure that our troops are safe.”
She said another priority for the organization is female troops.
“Even though you are a professional female warrior, you still sometimes enjoy having body wash and shampoo that smells good,” Whitehead said.
NCPacks4Patriots provides female service members with these items, as well as ponytail holders and bobby pins.
Their support isn’t limited those who are deployed, either. Family Readiness Groups are welcome at the organization. They can pick up items for welcome homes and picnics, among other events. Whitehead said North Carolina FRGs can also schedule a time to come and bring children to put together packages for Soldiers.
“Kids can make cards to go in the packages and go shopping at the center for something that their dad or mom would like,” she said.
In March, the organization mailed about 200 care packages. They rely on donations for postage, and Whitehead said many FRGs choose to mail the packages themselves. For other types of care packages, NCPacks4Patriots utilizes resupply flights and receives some business sponsor postage.
“It’s also a great way for extended Family members back at home to support troops — sending a check to cover postage,” she said.
Those in the area can also volunteer their time at the organization’s packing facility. All volunteers must complete an application before participating and should email NCP4P@yahoo.com to request it. Whitehead said some military Families have made it a mission to come once a month during their service member’s deployment.
“It helps them stay busy, give forward, and participate in the mission,” she said.
Soldiers who don’t have this direct Family support at home still receive care packages from the organization, explained Whitehead. She said one Soldier who had never received a letter, birthday card or package received a box after his platoon sergeant reached out to NCPacks4Patriots.
“When he came back from a difficult mission he had a package waiting on his cot, and he thought the mailroom got the wrong person but then he saw his name,” she said. “For the first time, he was able to tell his buddies ‘Hey guys, I got a package — want to share my goodies?’”
Whitehead said this Family atmosphere is her favorite aspect of NCPacks4Patriots and the Army.
“I love that saying that all roads lead back to Fort Bragg because … no matter where the path takes you, you’re always part of the Family.”