08/31/04 — Operation Homefront Hugs matches deployed military with civilians

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Operation Homefront Hugs matches deployed military with civilians

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on August 31, 2004 2:00 PM

A single mother serving the U.S. Army National Guard in Iraq with two children back home has many obstacles to overcome.

A Goldsboro woman has made the soldier's life a little easier by adopting her through an organization called Operation Homefront Hugs.

"Deployments are very challenging emotionally, and the organization helps keep morale high during these tough times," said Dawn Keith. Her husband, Staff Sgt. (Select) Duane Keith, is with the 4th Component Maintenance Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Mrs. Keith moved to Goldsboro from Alaska with her husband and three children. In July, she received an e-mail from her cousin in Utah about Operation Homefront Hugs and researched the Web site www.homefronthugs.com.

The organization was appealing, because it allowed her to adopt a deployed Army National Guard soldier. Mrs. Keith supports the soldier through care packages and letters.

It is also more personable, because she has adopted a specific troop member instead of an anonymous unit or group of troops.

"These packages bring a little piece of America to those who are homesick and reminds those who feel lonely that there are people who care about them and are thankful for their many sacrifices," said Mrs. Keith.

Alessandra Kellerman, organization president, is based in Florida and has a list of troops and families from all branches of the military who have signed up on the site requesting support. The first step is visiting the site and clicking on the link for Operation Homefront Hugs and following the instructions. All wishing to adopt a troop member are asked to e-mail their name, address, how many people they want to adopt, and information about why they have chosen to adopt.

After sending the information, Ms. Kellerman sends the military member's name, age, social situation, e-mail and mailing address. Those who have signed up are asked to send two or three letters and two care packages a month to the troop members or their family back home.

The packages can contain essential items for everyday use and comfort items to help bring a smile to their day, said Mrs. Keith. Packages to families can include treats or small toys for children and treats or inspirational items for spouses.

Some of the items troops have requested are as follows: long-distance phone cards, baby wipes, lip balm, eye drops, nasal spray, combs and brushes, cotton balls, hard candy, frisbees, protein bars, playing cards, flashlights, batteries, jump ropes, candles, DVDs, music CDs and travel-size games.

Prohibited items are chocolate or items with chocolate that could melt, pornographic materials, pork products, liquor, cigarettes, aerosol spray items, anything that leaks, fresh fruit or vegetables, and plants or animals.

Those who have adopted a troop member can go to the Web site www.usps.com and order boxes to use for care packages. They are free and brought right to the door, she said.

Ms. Keith has typically paid between $10 to $15 to mail each package and regular postage for letters. It takes about 10 days for the troops to receive the letters and packages, she said. Troops can respond with their letters for free from overseas.

She recommended contacting stores, because they will sometimes donate items to use in the packages.

"There are still soldiers who are waiting to be matched with volunteers, and many more soldiers sign up daily," she said. "Any donation people are able to make is greatly appreciated."