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ALACHUA – A local group in Alachua is making life a bit easier for troops overseas and is also stepping up to help military families who can’t afford to send their own care packages to their loved one. The Military Support Group of Alachua County (MSGFAC) sends monthly care packages to deployed soldiers in combat zones to provide items they can’t find in the field to make their lives a little easier and remind them of home.

MSGFAC President Ronna Jackson explained part of the reason the groups mission is so important to the members, many of whom have family members that either served, are currently serving or are veterans themselves.

“We owe our freedom in America to these heroes that are willing to risk their lives to defend people they do not even know, but are fellow Americans,” Jackson said. “This is especially true of our current military. During the Vietnam War there was a draft where people had to serve by law. But our current troops are all volunteers, who give up their civilian life to serve their country. What we do is a small way to say thank you.”

The group sends monthly packages to service members whose names have been provided by families or friends. They typically ship 20-30 boxes a month. Boxes usually contain items that are hard to get in the field such as nonperishable food, snacks, candy, personal hygiene items, writing supplies, movie videos and clothing items such as socks and underwear.

Troops may be out in the field for several weeks with nowhere to wash clothes and often wear the socks till they wear out from multiple marches. The military has a set quota for replacements, so additional socks and underwear are appreciated. Each box also contains letters and cards from people back home thanking the soldiers and offering a pen pal to correspond with.

Supplies for the packages come both from donations of cash or goods and from funds the group raises from special events they host. Members of the group are assigned items to purchase with one person getting snacks, another toiletries and hygiene items while another will get writing supplies or videos. The group meets once a month over a pot luck dinner supplied by members to load the boxes for shipping.

The whole process changed when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. In person group meetings stopped. Many of the members were older and concerns of spreading the potentially lethal virus put the group’s health concerns a priority. In April and May, the MSGFAC was unable to ship any boxes. For much of that time mail service was limited to necessary items and the packages were not considered essential.

“It really was a hard time emotionally, as we had to stop sending anything to the troops, especially since this was a trying time for the deployed troops concerned about their families back home as the virus spread,” Jackson said. “We decided we had to find a way to do this safely and get back on track, so we started up again in June.”

The process changed to adapt to social distancing. Instead of a whole group gathering over a meal to load the boxes, each member put together a box and brought the completed package to the First United Methodist Church in Alachua. Several members volunteered to put the packages into cars on a no-contact drive-through basis on a designated evening. Members picking up the packages shipped on their own.

But the pandemic had also shortened the list of soldiers they were shipping to, and at the July 2 distribution, there were only 16 packages to send. While group numbers went down, some members had specific soldiers they had been sending to, so they sent packages individually.

“One of our concerns is that with the high unemployment and financial difficulties the pandemic has caused will limit the ability of families to send on their own. Many families who were not part of our group were sending their own packages to their family members who were deployed, but could no longer afford to do so,” Jackson said.

“We want to help those families. Their resources may now be limited but our group has the funds, but we need the names and addresses of these soldiers so we can send them packages,” Jackson said. “Anyone who is having financial difficulties and has a soldier deployed can contact us and we will send a package for them each month.”

While the MSGFAC is limiting direct contact meetings currently, the group is open to anyone who would like to help support the troops, either as a volunteer or for donations. They can be contacted through their website at msgfac.com.

Families with deployed troops who are having financial difficulties due to loss of income can email the group at their website with the name and address of their soldier. The group will make sure that the soldiers get a monthly package.

“For the soldiers deployed in combat areas, these packages are important,” Jackson said. “They give them a sense of home and lets then know that we care and appreciate their service.”

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