When Jim Hill was serving in the military, stationed in California in the 1960s, he remembers the excitement of mail call. Everyone waited anxiously, hoping to receive a goodie box sent from loved ones back home.
“But not everyone received a goodie box, maybe they didn’t have family or their family couldn’t afford sending a package,” Hill said. “Especially at the holidays, everyone wanted to receive something, a box, a card or a letter. There was some disappointment, but we all shared.”
Motivated by his mail call memories, Hill, the Commander of American Legion Post 395 in Plano, created Operation R&R in 2015 after being contacted by Barb Nadeau, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program coordinator with Senior Services Associates Inc. of Kane and Kendall counties.
“I was looking for unique ways to engage our seniors, because the purpose of Senior Services is to keep seniors healthy and active in their community,” Nadeau said. “After talking and brainstorming with Jim, we created Operation R&R as a way for seniors and the community to do something for active-duty military personnel. It’s been heartwarming how everyone gets engaged in the project and works together.”
During their first year in 2015, Operation R&R collected recreation items soldiers could use in their down time, including sports equipment, puzzles and games. Nadeau said she had an overwhelming collection response from the seniors: after asking at a casino, a senior received 18 cases of 144 decks of playing cards in each case.
The items collected year-round through Operation R&R are sent to the USO at the Rock Island Arsenal, where they are delivered and distributed to troops stationed worldwide. The USO covers shipping costs and delivers the items to where they are needed the most.
This year, Operation R&R is focusing on collecting small, personal-sized and trial-sized hygiene items, such as shampoo, deodorant, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, lotion, baby wipes and hand sanitizer.
“We asked what items were needed this year, and we were told that they especially need feminine hygiene items and ladies’ personal items,” Hill said. “I think sometimes, when people collect hygiene items, they just send men’s deodorant and cologne, forgetting that women are also in the military.”
Other items are also being collected. Recommended entertainment items to send include books, magazines, puzzle books such as crosswords, word searches and sudoku, DVDs, headphones and earbuds, CDs and international calling cards. Recommended food items include beef jerky, powdered drink mix, coffee, granola, protein and energy bars, dry snacks such as trail mix, raisins and nuts, Pringles, fruit cups, chewing gum and hard candy.
Items that should not be sent include aerosol containers, perishable food, pornography, alcohol, tobacco or anything fragile or irreplaceable.
Senior Services Associates, 908 Game Farm Road in Yorkville, collected items from September through late October. Items are still being collected and can be dropped off at American Legion Post 395, 510 E. Dearborn St. in Plano, or at other local American Legion posts. Groups or businesses can become a drop-off location or host a collection drive by calling 847-417-9861.
“As Veterans Day approaches, we need to remember that veterans are all those that serve or have served in the armed forces, not just military personnel that were involved with conflicts or wars,” Hill said. “It is important to remember our troops not just during Veterans Day and the holidays. The need is year-round.”