Author: Andy Goldstein, NASBA Electronic Media Specialist and Webmaster
Michael and Carol Weinshel's home in suburban Connecticut looks like a mail-order warehouse. The room that was once known as the "Playroom" has been transformed into the "Troop Project Room." By the end of this year, two of their five bedrooms will be filled with stacks of boxes containing anything from candy to disposable razors, all of which will be used to support a very important cause.
Since 2005, Mike, Carol and Carol's sister, Dr. Susan Spivack, have been carrying out an important mission: To assemble and mail care packages to American troops stationed abroad. The project, tentatively entitled "Packages for the Troops," has touched the hearts and lives of more than 25,000 brave men and women serving our country overseas.
In recognition of the trio's noble efforts, the NASBA Center for the Public Trust (CPT) proudly bestowed them with the 2009 Being a Difference Award, honoring their unique and worthy contributions.
"Packages for the Troops" unknowingly began in 1997 in the Weinshel's kitchen, with a thoughtful gesture from a mother to her son. The Weinshel's oldest son, Matthew, a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army at the time, was stationed abroad and Carol wanted to send him a sweet comfort from home. She baked batches of cookies and sent them to him and his fellow soldiers, not realizing the impact her packages would make.
"I did what I thought I was supposed to do as a mother," she said. "My brother-in-law used to tease me and say, 'You're baking cookies for the entire United States Army.' At one point, the guys made a video thanking me for them. Little did I know how much of a difference the cookies made."
It wasn't long before Carol began to understand the magnitude of her efforts. In 2003, the Weinshel's middle son, Randy, an Army Dentist, was stationed for a year in Iraq with the 101st Airborne. Again, Carol sent care packages to her son the entire time he was gone.
Talking to him about the packages, she became enlightened to the fact that Randy was lucky, because some soldiers never received anything from home.
"Randy would say, 'You can't imagine these young kids who are getting nothing [from home],'" she said. "It is expensive just to send packages overseas, let alone the content in them."
The care packages were also a great way for the Weinshel sons to bond with other members of their troops. One example is the great relationship Matthew and his family formed with his boss from the 82nd, Col. Jeffrey Colt. Col. Colt (who has since been promoted to Brigadier General) even attended the Weinshel family events; and it was at such an event in 2005 that the future of Carol's "Packages for the Troops" initiative was transformed forever. Among hamburgers and hot dogs at a family barbecue, one day before Col. Colt was taking the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade to Iraq, Carol instantaneously offered support to his brigade, without exactly knowing how many packages he would need.
Shortly thereafter, Carol learned she would be assembling and mailing a staggering 2,850 packages. It was at this time that Carol reached out to family and friends for assistance with assembling and posting the packages and gathering supplies. Each package contained everyday items like toothbrushes, shampoo, batteries, razors, cotton swabs, gum and candy – all the little things to make a soldier's life a lot more tolerable while away from home. Through a tremendous amount of effort, Carol, Michael and Sue managed to mail all of the packages by Thanksgiving.
"After Christmas was over, we realized that we couldn't stop," she said. "They really need us. Listening to what the soldiers have to say makes it real. This is all for them."
Michael added, "This project means a lot to both of us and really is making a difference."
In addition to the significant amount of money Carol and Michael invest in the project, Carol also works with schools, hotels and other organizations to secure donations, mainly in the form of supplies. Sometimes schools host fundraisers to gather contributions from the community. During one school's pledge drive, Carol was put in contact with Andrea McGrath, the Senior Program Manager at Energizer Personal Care, which operates globally in the broad categories of household and personal care products. After watching the CPT's Being a Difference Award presentation to the Weinshels, McGrath knew she and her company had to be involved.
"Carol's passion to help humanity is truly inspiring," said McGrath. "The award presentation brought to life how meaningful the Weinshels' work is, and what it means to 'be a difference.' It gives hope that we can all be a difference."
Energizer, which also actively supports the United Way and other charitable organizations, came through for the project in a big way, donating 30,000 Schick disposable razors and 90,000 individually wrapped Wet Ones antibacterial wipes. It was such a large donation, in fact, that Carol had to store most of the supplies at a relative's house.
But those supplies won't be stored long. The Weinshels are supporting the 101st CAB, and already know others who will be deploying during 2013. Though her sister retired from the project in December 2011, Carol doesn't know if, or when, the "Packages for the Troops" project will ever slow down.
"I don't know what will happen," she said. "I never thought about it. I'm all in. I think I'm invincible."
Carol has compiled an online journal chronicling the project, which is available here. If you would like to lend support to the "Packages for the Troops" project, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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