I’ll never forget when Lisa Huntley and Kami Timm came to my office to discuss sending care packages to our deployed troops. I was new to Community Outreach at Queen of the Valley, just getting settled into my role of serving the needs of the vulnerable outside the walls of our medical center. I had no idea how this meeting was about to change the course of my life. How this meeting was going to bestow blessings endless on me and countless others. I had no idea the tremendous impact of sending care packages filled with simple items like boot socks, beef jerky, toiletries, Girl Scout Cookies, Taco Bell sauce and much more could lift the morale of our military personnel so far from home. I had no idea the number of young men and women who enlisted in our Armed Forces would never receive letters, cards or gifts from their loved ones they left behind to serve our country. Looking back to the beginning, 10 years ago, I believe I represented the majority of civilians, we just don’t know.
Napa’s hometown care package effort began in 2007 when Lisa, mother of Mitchell Ray, an 18 year old United States Marine deployed in Iraq, wanted to send care packages to her son and his buddies for Christmas. Lisa had received a letter from Mitch with a request and $20, to help him provide Christmas for those who were forgotten. Lisa with the encouragement and help of Kami Timm, Ben Huntley, Nancy Lewis, Christy Alipio, Carol George and many other Queen of the Valley colleagues, were able to collect enough donations within a 2 week period from hospital staff to ship 134 care packages to Mitch’s unit in Iraq. I imagine it was a flurry of love, chaos, challenges, successes and sacred encounters for Lisa and her work family. I can’t even begin to imagine how Mitch and his buddies felt receiving such an unexpected grand Christmas.
In 2008, Mitch was safely home to share Christmas with his mom and family, but Lisa and Mitch new all too well there will be thousands others deployed, in harm’s way, who will be forgotten during the Holidays. What could they do?
Kami saw a direct link between the values and mission of our medical center and what this care package effort was able to do the prior year, so she and Lisa scheduled a meeting with me at Community Outreach to talk. After we met, we received the blessing of Queen’s Community Outreach and Queen’s Foundation. We immediately pulled together a team of volunteers, primarily from the prior year and added Vicki Langdale, Gold Star Mom, who lost her son in Iraq, in 2003, and Nancy Stetler, Army Mom, whose son was currently deployed.
We shared many tears, fears, laughter and determination as we created our mission statement and naming of this heartfelt program, “Operation: With LOVE from HOME” (OWLFH). We assigned responsibilities to team members and we invited our generous community and local businesses to join us, starting with Napa Community Bank (now called Rabobank), Bank of Napa, Synergy, Healthquest, Exertec, along with our schools, such at Silverado Middle School Leadership Class with Patty Wyman, local Dentists and Physicians. This was a love bomb that went off in Napa! That year we shipped 434 care packages to several units in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since that time, I too became a proud Mother of a Marine who was deployed 3 times to the Middle East. And I’m now a proud Aunt of a Marine who is currently stationed in Okinawa. I have been the loved one and caregiver for a wounded warrior, someone personally impacted by the effects of war through Post Traumatic Combat Stress and Traumatic Brain Injuries. I have been touched beyond words as I continue to share the history of OWLFH at each Care Package Assembly Day. And yes, I still get chocked up and let a few tears slip by as I’m overwhelmed with emotional awe of a mother’s love for her Marine, and a Marine’s love for his battle buddies, and Napa’s love for our deployed service members and our Veterans who are coming home to stay.
This Christmas is our 11th Holiday Care Package Effort and we still rely on Napa’s support both with donated items needed for each care package and financial donations to help cover the shipping, $13.45 per box. With continued support of this all-volunteer 501(c)3 non-profit, we will once again fill 1,200 care packages on Saturday, December 9th, beginning at 9:30am, with a Color Guard, singing of the Star Spangle Banner and introductions of our military families and veterans. We are thrilled to be in a new location, the Napa Valley College gymnasium, that allows space for “two” assembly lines. We hope you will help us and join us in brightening the Holiday’s for our brave men and women far from home.