Letting servicemembers know they're not forgotten this Valentine's Day couldn't be easier, thanks to a national troop-support group's online care package program.
Operation Homefront's "eCarePackage" program allows American citizens to send care packages to servicemembers and their families. The program also is available for military families to send and receive packages.
"(Servicemembers and their families) just have to register, but it's completely secure," said Meredith Leyva, founder of Operation Homefront. "We don't share any private information, not even first names."
When servicemembers or their family members register, they're assigned a number that becomes their eCarePackage identity. Registered users can pass that number to friends and family members, who then can use it to send care packages they create from the requestor's wish list.
Civilians can choose to send packages to servicemembers from specific states, branch of service, or even current duty station. The option to make it a birthday gift also is available.
The program, which began in time for Christmas 2006 and offers specific products for each major holiday, has a wide variety of products from which to choose, thanks to donors. Candy is available, as well as small pillows and "fun stuff," Leyva said.
"You're going to get some fun, higher-end stuff," she said. "It's a heck of a lot cheaper for a servicemember to send a care package this way, since all our care package products are donated."
The only cost to senders is shipping, and even that is discounted.
"We actually have got a deal with DHL, so we do tend to get cheaper rates in general, and we pass that on," Leyva said. "And, because we do have the direct partnership with DHL, we have been able to get valentine stuff out to Iraq as quickly as three days, but it's not guaranteed."
Though there's no cutoff date for sending eCarePackages to or from Iraq, Leyva emphasized that sooner always is better than later.
Another feature offered through the program is the opportunity for senders and recipients to connect via e-mail.
"We like to encourage 'thank You' notes," Leyva said. "They end up striking up a great conversation with the one who sent the care package."
Notes also can be included in the care packages, she said.
Operation Homefront is a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
America Supports You