American soldiers don't have the luxury of heading down to the corner convenience store to buy shaving cream or a snack when they're in the middle of the desert, over 7,000 miles away from home.
Operation Sandbox, a non-profit organization that recently relocated to Covington, sends care packages to servicemen and servicewomen in Afghanistan and Iraq, providing them with cherished items from home including Girl Scout cookies.
Virginia Pearson and her daughter Julie started Operation Sandbox in 2004 in Oxford at Park Place Baptist Church. But after several years of growth, the organization needed a larger place to operate.
The donations pour in every day including a van full of Girl Scout cookies from members of Brownie Troop 26342 from DeKalb County. The troop donated 400 boxes of cookies of all varieties which Pearson said are immensely popular with the troops.
"Every time we send them Girl Scout cookies, we get a lot of positive response," she said. "We just can't send them Tag-alongs because they don't ship well."
Marsha Harding transported the cookies along with three girls from the Brownie troop and said sometimes people don't even buy cookies for themselves.
"People buy these cookies especially for the troops," said Harding. "We give them the option if they want to support the troops, they can pick out which cookies they want to send. Some people, that's all they bought; just cookies for the troops."
What began as a simple correspondence between two people has grown ten-fold.
It all started when Pearson met a woman in a Michael's craft store and found out she had a son in Iraq. After she volunteered to send him a care package she asked her daughter Julie if she would write to the soldier, and the two corresponded while Julie was a student at the University of Miami. The two eventually met, then married.
Operation Sandbox works in conjunction with the U.S. Army to provide the packages to wounded soldiers in hospitals in Baghdad. Pearson said the chaplains in Washington D.C. also help her coordinate who receives them.
Pearson said she receives checks from all over the country - some as far away as New York.
Money is exceptionally important to the operation, especially with the recent inflation of fuel prices. Pearson said her shipping costs have recently increased to $12 compared to last year's price of $10.
The organization sponsors B 1/121 IN (Light) out of Covington and Pearson said Operation Sandbox will be supporting all the National Guard members deploying in 2008 and 2009.
Pearson said soldier's requests over time have given her plenty of ideas to formulate a pretty comprehensive list she refers to as the "PX". But even with more than 50 different items ranging from instant pudding to DVDs, she knows the list is ever changing.
"We are constantly upgrading the list," she said. "We ask the soldiers to send us input and we get an idea of the most popular items based on which ones they circle on the list."
Virginia said her foundation reached a peak of 50 packages a week, but since being diagnosed with diabetes, she hasn't been able to pack and send many boxes. Her condition has improved to the point where she feels like they can pump out at least 30 boxes, starting this week.
Bravo Company Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Eaton didn't mince words when asked what he felt about Operation Sandbox's efforts.
"A lot of folks at the local level want to always know how they can help the soldiers who are abroad fighting this global war on terror," said Eaton. "Care packages are a great way for soldiers to get a taste of home. It's motivating and really boosts morale, especially after a bad day."