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care packages

By Kyle Barr

There are 1.3 million active military personnel stationed all around the world according to the U.S. Department of Defense, and while Janet Godfrey and her nonprofit Operation Veronica know they can’t reach all of them, they’ve sure tried to.

The Rocky Point-based organization has worked to ship thousands of boxes filled with food, toiletries, utensils and more to thousands of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen stationed overseas since 2005. Even after all this time Godfrey said she is still amazed just how appreciative the men and women in uniform are after receiving their packages.

“More important than the contents of the box is that the soldiers know people they never met got together and intentionally spent their time, money and effort to send this package to them.”

— Janet Godfrey

“More important than the contents of the box is that the soldiers know people they never met got together and intentionally spent their time, money and effort to send this package to them,” Godfrey said.
“We’re told by the people who receive it that it’s like getting a message from the American people.”

Close to 20 women volunteers have met nearly every Friday at St. Anthony’s Church in Rocky Point since the group’s inception, and over its 13-year lifespan, have helped ship over 70,000 items. The boxes have been sent to soldiers in nine different countries as well as several naval ships stationed all over the world.

If volunteers are not busy packing boxes, they are working a sewing machine making neck coolers for the spring months and polar fleece sweaters for winter. Other women are hunkered down creating survival bracelets made from 550 paracord, the same cordage that airborne infantry used making World War II parachutes. Soldiers can find the bracelets useful in the field for making tourniquets or restraints, for storing equipment or to do something as simple as lacing their shoes.

“This kind of thing is very spiritually rewarding,” Rocky Point volunteer Judi Miranda said. “I’ve always done volunteer work, but there is something very special about what we’re doing.”

The boxes the group ships are filled with essentials, but the volunteers often add other items at soldiers’ requests. This could be anything from glue traps to deal with vermin problems to flip-flops to aid in walking around without fear of getting dust in their boots.

“I’ve always done volunteer work, but there is something very special about what we’re doing.”

— Judi Miranda

“Everybody wants to do something to support our troops, but they just don’t know what to do,” Godfrey said. “We’re an outlet in that regard.”

It’s not cheap to send so many boxes overseas. Using a medium-sized flat-rate United States Postal Service box costs $18 to ship. If the group wishes to send a more irregular-sized box it may cost closer to $30 or $40. The volunteers rely on donations from the local community as well as the support from the American Legion Post 1880, the American Legion Women’s Auxiliary at the Leisure Glen Homeowners Association in Ridge, Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 and the Richard and Mary Morrison Foundation based in Port Jefferson.

“We’re relying on every little penny,” said Irene Stellato, a volunteer from Rocky Point.

Even with the amount of time and money that goes into the work, Godfrey said she sees what Operation Veronica is able to do as a good that goes beyond politics. The name for the group comes from the story of
St. Veronica, who in the Bible is said to have used her veil to wipe the face of Jesus as he carried his cross to the mound. 

“She couldn’t take him off the walk, she couldn’t change his fate, but she gave him a momentary relief from physical discomfort, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Godfrey said. “We can’t change their fates, we can’t change their lives, we can’t bring them home as much as we want to, but we can cool them off when they’re hot, we can warm them up when they’re cold, we can give them something to eat when they’re hungry, so we do what we can.”

To learn more about Operation Veronica visit www.operationveronica.org.

This post was updated July 6 to correct the amount of total items Operation Veronica has shipped to service members.

Volunteers at St. James R.C. Church, above, pack up baked goods to be included in care packages for parishioners away at college. Photo from Mary Arasi

Nowadays texts and social media comments may be the trend, but a Setauket church is keeping a cherished form of reaching out alive.

Care packages sent to former parishioners of St. James R.C. Church include snacks and a copy of The Village Times Herald.” Photo from Mary Arasi

Recently, 107 students from the Three Village area attending college away from home received care packages in the mail thanks to 10 parishioners from St. James R.C. Church in Setauket. On April 13, the group filled boxes with goodies, including baked goods from 18 volunteer bakers. Once they sealed the packages, they delivered the boxes to the April 15, 6 p.m. Sunday Mass for service attendees to volunteer to take home and mail to the recipients.

For more than two decades, Mary Arasi has organized a group of volunteers in the spring and fall to create care packages for parishioners who are attending college away from home. Through the years the group has consisted of a variety of congregation members, from children to senior citizens, filling boxes with baked goods, snacks, a religious article and even copies of The Village Times Herald.

Arasi said she writes a note to be photocopied and included in each box and then asks the volunteers to add a postscript. She said she requests the senders to write something on the outside of the box, too. In the past, holiday greetings and shout-outs for local teams have been added to the notes and boxes.

“I feel that it’s really important the students know another person touched the box,” Arasi said.

Congregant Arlene Collins, a teacher at Sts. Philip and James School in St. James, said she has volunteered from time to time to fill boxes since 1997 when Arasi called her to ask for her oldest son’s college address. When her friend explained what she was doing, Collins decided to volunteer. She said she has known Arasi since their children were in nursery school, and the assembling of packages is the perfect time for the two to catch up with each other and others they have met through the years at the church.

“Every time I received a care package I had a moment of feeling really grateful that someone was thinking about me enough to send me something in the mail.”

— Kerri Farrell

Collins said all three of her children received packages during their college years until her youngest graduated in 2008, and they always looked forward to the packages’ arrivals.

“They were getting ready for finals, and a package would come, and they were so happy, especially with the baked goods,” Collins said.

During the last package assembly, the teacher said she was delighted to see the names of a couple of former students and included a note to say hello and wish them well.

Kerri Farrell remembered helping to assemble boxes when she was a teenager and receiving the care packages from the church when she attended college, starting with the 2004-05 school year. She said she was touched to receive them, especially during the first two years when she was feeling homesick.

“Sometimes when you’re in a new place and feeling overwhelmed, you forget nice little things like that because you’re caught up in the day-to-day stuff,” Farrell said. “Every time I received a care package I had a moment of feeling really grateful that someone was thinking about me enough to send me something in the mail.”

College students feeling overwhelmed or homesick is why Arasi said she keeps the care packages coming.

“If one of those boxes gets to a kid on a really bad day, and it made a difference that their church family cares about them, then it’s all worth it,” she said.

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