A LaCrosse, Wash., couple is making it their mission to ensure soldiers stationed in war zones overseas have the basic necessities they need for personal comfort and care.
In 15 months’ time Roger Myers, 59, and his wife, Lana Hayes, 54, have gone from initiating a two-person project sending a few care packages to soldiers in war zones to a nonprofit campaign that is attracting both private and corporate sponsorship and is serving more than 500 male and female soldiers a month.
“This thing is just growing like crazy,” said Myers of the organization, named WHEAT, which stands for We Honor Every American Troop. The logo of a bouquet of wheat tied with a yellow ribbon signifies Whitman County’s wheat production and the desire to bring troops home safely.
“I’m a Navy veteran, and I just remembered what it was like to get mail and care packages when I was over there. And a lot of troops that didn’t have family” did not receive such mail, he said.
He and Hayes checked on a U.S. Department of Defense website and found how to connect with soldiers who are overseas and what they were asking for. Most of the requests were just for small stuff, Myers said — like beef jerky, protein bars, packaged food that did not need a can opener, personal hygiene items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, and — for women — tampons and toilet paper.
“Stuff that we take for granted, but when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, where (these soldiers) are stationed, they’re not able to get them. In my opinion, that’s just pathetic,” Myers said.
Although the military does provide some of these basics, often it’s not enough to go around, and supplies run out before they’re restocked. Myers said in some instances he’s heard of soldiers not being able to get toilet paper and using sandbags for personal hygiene.
“These are just basic things, and that’s what got us kind of riled up and we wanted to get involved,” Myers said.
“So it got to the point where we were sending a few boxes a week, and then it got to where we couldn’t afford to do it anymore,” he said. “It was costing us $18.45 a box, and when it got up to the same as a house payment (we thought) maybe we should get some help.’
A core group of friends began donating money and items to be added to the shipments, and then the WHEAT group started adopting more troops. At another friend’s suggestion Myers and Hayes filed paperwork to become a nonprofit, and now the operation is a full-time job for them.
The organization’s mission statement says it aims to “boost morale of troops deployed abroad through their full deployment with high-quality, frequent care packages and handwritten letters.”
The organization promises transparency and accountability and says each donated item is entered into a database and tracked to its end destination. WHEAT serves all five branches of the military and focuses on supporting troops who do not have access to a military exchange or commissary.
Packages are usually mailed within 24 hours after a unit has been adopted, and the contents of the packages are hand-selected items based on the unit’s specific requests.
Organizers say the group takes special care to cater to female service members by preparing boxes filled with high-quality hygiene products and toiletries. And each care package includes a handwritten, personalized letter or picture from local residents, students, board members or Myers’ and Hayes’ black Lab, Milo.
Hayes said the organization currently is serving more than 500 service members in 17 units, mostly in war zones.
“So whatever they need, we get it if we don’t have it (in storage) already,” Hayes said. “It’s shocking what they ask for. One of the things they ask for the most is toilet paper. It’s really insane, but we can get a package to Qatar in five days and South Korea in six to seven days.”
Currently the organization is looking for places in the Lewiston-Clarkston area where items can be dropped off and collected by WHEAT members. Also, Hayes said, they are open to adopting any military units that need their services if people will provide service members’ contact information.
Anyone wishing more information about the organization or how to make donations may contact Myers at (509) 830-7730; Hayes at (509) 549-3708 or the landline at (509) 549-3708.
Hedberg may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 983-2326.