What started as a small project 16 years ago at American Legion Post 201 in Alpharetta, Ga., recently hit a huge milestone. But despite the milestone, the chief organizer of the project sees no reason to slow down.
The post recently sent off its 10,000th care package to a deployed servicemember, surpassing by 9,900 packages the original goal for the project. The program chairman, Legionnaire Steve Olesnevich, took over in 2008 a project that started when the post read about someone else in the community providing similar care packages.
What began as a project became “a mission” for Olesnevich. “We started with a goal of 100 packages to local Georgia troops. Then it became 200,” he said. “Then it became apparent we could continue because the groundswell at that time (for the war in Iraq) was tremendous. The more we did, the more the word got out to the community. The people started to depend on us to send packages. They provided (items) and shipping money, and it became a community affair. And it’s just snowballed.”
The care packages consist of a variety of items, including magazines, books, toiletries, non-perishable foods, snacks and other items not always easy to obtain during a deployment. Many of the items are donated by community members or local merchants.
“Anything with sugar in it. Girl Scout cookies, Halloween candy, Christmas candy,” Olesnevich said. “I don’t go to the stores, but the people who have donated or know of what we do, do know the store manager (and) sit in church with them.”
The care packages originally went to Georgia servicemembers but extended to Alabama. Olesnevich then began reaching out to military chaplains stationed in hospitals or in units that knew of servicemembers who weren’t receiving any care packages. “And that became a groundswell,” Olesnevich said. “I could ship to one chaplain, and it could go to hospitals where it can be used for patients.”
While many of the items come in via donations, there still is the issue of mailing the care packages, which can approach $20 per package. But whenever there has been an issue with coming up with the funds to ship the packages “something sprang up,” Olesnevich said. The latest instance came when Auxiliary Unit 201 member Carol Norman donated the money to cover postage.
The efforts of Post 201 are appreciated. Thank-you notes and emails have been received, including:
• “Thank you all – so thoughtful and kind.”
• “Thank you so much! We appreciate your support.”
• “Words can’t thank you enough for what you are doing for me.”
• “Truly amazing what an impact to morale even the simple things make.”
• “I received a box today from you and the Legion Post 201. It was a complete surprise! Thank you so much! It’s such a great feeling when we receive mail and a little piece of home while we are deployed.” – Lt. Caitlin Workman, Nurses Corps, U.S. Navy
The post also has received a flag that flew over MC-130J Commander II during combat missions in Afghanistan in support of Special Operations Forces during Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, and a flag from a U.S. Air Force Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopter that was part of by the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron during Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Operation Resolute Support.
“What they sent back was ‘you shouldn’t have gone out of your way,’” Olesnevich said. “And I’m tearing up. We shouldn’t have gone out of our way? (They’re) in harm’s way.”
Olesnevich said there never was a long-term goal for how many packages would be sent. But even after hitting 10,000, the post – and the project chairman – aren’t ready to slow down.
“People say ‘what are you going to do? Are you going to go on?’” Olesnevich said. “Sure I will. I’ll do it until my dying breath, as long as I can.”