Michelle and Wesley Snow were motivated to send care packages to servicemen overseas when their son was injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

Written By Scott Braden

On May 15, the nation celebrates Armed Forces Day. But some Carroll Countians have been showing their appreciation all year long for the contribution of those who serve in our armed forces. To boost the morale of our troops, local citizens have organized, put together and sent care packages to military personnel serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sondra Greene, a special education teacher at New Windsor Middle School, was in charge of the school’s Service-Learning Club in 2007 and 2008 when she sent gift bags to the troops.

“We were looking for different types of projects that were associated with service learning, and the troops just came to mind,” said Greene. “I had seen the website called Operation Goody Bag [], and we tried to do our version, to see what we could do to contribute.

“The biggest issue became how to ship the bags, which is what our local VFW took care of.”

Once Greene and her students got a handle on the project, they immediately went to work.

“One of the members of the club researched what kinds of products we could send to the troops in Iraq,” said Greene. “These included toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs, something that they could add to water to drink, and granola bars.

“I wanted to give the students as much responsibility and independence as possible; it was their mission and their project. So, we collected donations from everyone in the school. The members of the club decorated the paper gift bags.”

A lot of thought went into the project, including when to ship the bags.

“The first year we did it before Christmas so the soldiers could receive them during the holidays,” said Greene. “The second year, we felt like much of what they got they probably received during the holidays, so we decided to ship the gift bags during the spring. The 450 to 500 gift bags were distributed at a center in Iraq so that airmen, Army, Marines, sailors, and the Fallujah surgical unit received them. It worked out well.

“The whole experience was wonderful. At one point in my classroom, I had bags stacked up from one end to the other. We received a Certificate of Appreciation from the Marines of Battery S, 5th Battalion, 10th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6; and several of the troops wrote thank-you letters that I shared with the students.”

The importance of finding some way of making a difference was Michelle and Wesley Snow’s motivation for sending care packages. Michelle found her inspiration in July 2009, when she heard that a vehicle carrying her son, Cpl. Ryan Safran, had been hit by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Safran survived the attack, but the news of her son put Snow into action.

“My anxiety as a mom went through the roof,” said Snow. “The anxiety medication I was taking was not working. I had to act. I went home after work and made four large poster boards with pictures of [my son and other soldiers] I knew were over there.”

Snow – with poster boards in hand to put a face on those she wished to help – began her care package campaign at Westminster Elks 2277.

“I stopped by the Elks and told them what I would like to do.” said Snow. “They were very quick in saying they would help. I agreed to do all the footwork and advertising for them if they would help by being a drop-off center and box donations.”

Snow wanted to send care packages to Carroll County soldiers based in Afghanistan, as well as their units. The original hometown soldiers included her son, Ryan, Lcpl. Brian E. Beares, Lcpl. Mark Harrod, and Cpl. Eric Wilt. Lcpl. Christopher Melton, Ssgt. Michael Hickey, and Cpl. Jerry Weckesser have since been added to the list.

According to the Elks’ treasurer, Jack Curtis, the lodge has spent more than 96 hours packaging and shipping 75 care packages to the soldiers and their units. The care packages contain everything from men’s boxer shorts to toilet paper, baby wipes and power bars. And the Snows found ways of promoting their campaign.

“I have a friend at work who is also a printer at Staples,” said Snow. “Staples donated the copy machine while my workplace [Home Depot] donated paper. My husband designed the fliers and the booklets. Each booklet had a list of materials needed by the troops, as suggested by my son [and his fellow soldiers].

“I pounded the pavement handing out fliers and booklets, telling people how important it was to start their own drives. I also asked family, friends, and co-workers to donate or start a drive. Well, after four posters, 1,500 fliers and booklets, mass e-mails, and Facebook blogs, as well as many weekends and long nights after work, I helped over 160 companies, families, 4H clubs, schools, churches, sport teams, and co-workers to either start a drive or donate to one.”

Little by little, the Snows found support from the community.

“To pay for shipping,” Snow said, “we received close to $200 from the Lions Club, $1,471 from the Greene Turtle, and $500 from a 50/50 raffle by the Elks. Elks members also took me shopping for items, and have kept a detailed record of everything that was donated and dollar amounts. All it cost for me was a heartful of love, time, and gas to give a smile to ones who need it.”

“I got the chance to talk to Mark [Harrod],” said Wesley Snow. “I asked him how he liked getting these things from people he didn’t even know. He almost cried. It helped him so much. You could send a little thing like a magazine, but that one little thing can help somebody over there.”