Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Valeria Martinez
On the morning of Wed., June 17, a group of 20 volunteers met at the Garver Methodist Church to build and send care packages to the United States Marines and Army.
“This marks the day that we have been doing this for 12 years,” leader Nancy Conway said.
Conway, the founder of the project, came up with the idea of mailing care packages after hearing about a program her church offered. Later on, Conway went around town collecting shoeboxes, saved some money, and bought supplies.
“About 99 percent of the work is done by Nancy herself,” two-year volunteer Barb Lamont said. “It takes her about two months to get everything together.”
After people heard about Conway’s service project, people volunteered by donating / helping with the care packages. Jim Heinz, a volunteer of three years, recalled how the program had increased from 10 people to 20 people — the program’s highest number of volunteers to this day.
“We started and just kept on going,” Conway said.
This year, Conway and a group of volunteers collected an ample amount of supplies. The supplies consist of basic necessities like socks and hygiene products; nonperishable food items such as candy, ramen soup, and trail mix; and other fun supplies like comics, baseballs, and mini flags. The team had to fit 23 supplies for each large flat rate box until they filled up their goal of 55 boxes.
“It will all fit,” Conway said. “I did it myself last night.”
Although the experienced Conway made it seem easy to assemble the box, volunteers struggled to make sure that everything would fit.
“I’m not sure if this will fit all in,” three-year volunteer MaryAnn Heinz said. “It’s all such good stuff and you don’t want to leave anything out.”
Another problem Nancy and the volunteers faced were expenses — specifically gathering supplies and shipping costs.
Volunteers find ingenious ways to save money on supplies by using prescription bottles for cotton balls, Q-tips, and laundry detergent. They also collect the newspaper bags to replace Ziploc bags for the candy. Other volunteers would help donate books or gather baseballs.
“It costs about $15 for us to mail each box,” said Lamont.
In order to solve that problem, the group would raise money by putting up donation boxes in local stores and through word of mouth. Volunteers would also gather aluminum cans and recycle them for funding.
“We can’t do it every month and we want the most of our money, so we make sure all the stuff gets used,” volunteer Cindy Pringle said.
Despite the small problems the volunteers have encountered, many have expressed their desire to come back and volunteer. Newcomers and old timers definitely plan to come back for a good cause.
“We are trying to reach out and not be in our walls; we can share our time and effort,” Pringle said. “It’s so awesome to have Nancy tell us about the people who receive it…it feels like we’re doing something.”
Volunteers also like project because it does not take up too much time. Taking only an hour and a half, many of the volunteers can continue on with their day.
“[Time] goes pretty fast with a lot of help,” Nelson said.
After this session, Conway plans on doing two more similar sessions; one in August and one in November for Christmas time. Overall, Conway holds five sessions a year. Conway has no intention of retiring anytime soon.
“It’s not really a challenge, it’s just a love of doing it for the guys,” Conway said.