'Care package' grows thanks to generosity of Trion employees

Oct. 20, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

What began as an offhand mention of baking some cookies ended up with more than 200 pounds of food, coffee, reading material and other items being shipped from Sanford to Afghanistan

Colin O'Connell, the vice president of sales and marketing at Sanford manufacturer Trion Indoor Air Quality, has a son whose close friend Zealand Shouse deployed several months ago to Logar Province in Afghanistan — an eastern region whose governor was assassinated Tuesday — with the U.S. Army's 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.

"A couple weeks ago my wife (Debbie) emailed him and said, 'Hey, we're going to send you a care package' — you know, cookies and things like that," O'Connell said. "But I was talking about it in the office, and had a few people say they wanted to help. Well, within less than a week we had way too much stuff."

That 'way too much stuff' included hundreds of dollars worth of everything from coffee to books, magazines and, most importantly, snacks.

"On their flight schedules they miss a lot of meals, so it's good to have something you can put in your pocket," O'Connell said. That's because Shouse and his fellow soldiers, based out of Fort Drum in New York, fly Apache helicopters. The attack helicopters are often used in support roles, so their daily schedules change at a moment's notice depending on what ground troops are up to.

And although O'Connell had a personal reason to look after the 25-year-old Shouse — a Moore County native who went on many a family trip with the O'Connells and is now a chief warrant officer grade two who carries a Thomas The Tank Engine toy on every flight for his young son Charlie — no one else at Trion did. So why would nearly 20 of them pitch in?

"We all did it because we appreciate so much what they do for us," Gloria Hubbard said. "... It's just a small way to show our appreciation."

And for others, like Bill Crawford, there was a bit of giving back involved.

"I don't know these guys (personally), but I do know them because I'm ex-military; I'm a veteran," said Crawford, who retired from the Air Force as a staff sergeant and served in southeast Asia. "... Being on an isolated tour of duty, I'm familiar with that, and I know how much getting a care package from anyone will brighten your day — or night, whenever you get it."

And with the three boxes Trion sent over, Crawford said there will be more than enough to share.

"The guys who are around get excited, too, because you know you're all going to get a piece of it" he said. "Even if it's not for you, whoever got it will share. And it's just a piece of home. That was my connection, so as soon as I heard about it, I jumped on it."

A proud National Rifle Association member, Crawford said he sent over a few gun magazines — the kind you read, not the kind you load — to add to the food and coffee. A few others also donated various books and magazines, and O'Connell said they got more donations from Books at a Steal and the Sanford Elks Club, as well.

O'Connell said they all even learned a thing or two in the process — like how you can't send Slim Jims, for example, because pork products are banned out of respect for the region's Islamic culture — but that they're still waiting to hear from Shouse and the rest of his task force that they've received it.

People can't add to the Trion care package since it's now somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean or in the Middle East. But those who do want to send something can do so, even if they don't personally know someone in the military: Websites like AnySoldier.com, BooksForSoldiers.com and more exist to help people put a care package together and get it delivered to an individual or group. There's also a comprehensive guide at www.military.com/spouse/military-life/military-resources/how-to-support-our-troops.html that gives a list of such websites as well as how to help with scholarships, transition programs, counseling and more.