A table in Robin Schultz's Bluff Park home last week was filled with soap, toothpaste, ChapStick, soup cans, toilet tissue, boxes of noodles, chewing gum, deodorant, notebooks and countless other non-perishable items. There were magazines, red clown noses, a green clown wig, kid toys and three pictures colored by Bluff Park school students.
They were the latest in donations that have been collected for "Adopt-a-Soldier," a project started by Schultz for the Bluff Park communityto send personal care packages to soldiers deployed in Iraq who are not receiving items from home.
But as news about the project has spread, so has the interest from people throughout Hoover. "It was initially just supposed to be Bluff Park," Schultz said last week as he prepared to send more care packages. "Now, it has expanded. It's grown bigger than I originally expected."
Filling the white Priority Mail boxes that can hold up to 70 pounds has become a labor of dedication for Schultz, whose son, Brooks Schultz, has been deployed in Iraq since July with the 1-14 Infantry Battalion, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division that is based in Hawaii.
Schultz said he became deeply touched after learning from his son that there are soldiers who are not receiving care packages from loved ones. Schultz, who communicates with his son almost daily through the Internet, said his son has numerous relatives and receives plenty of care packages. Others are not so blessed. His son's roommate, "Epp," who is from Hawaii, doesn't have family, Schultz said. Ironically, "Epp" is the one who helps disburse mail to other soldiers.
"Can you imagine being a soldier over there as everyone else is getting stuff, you're not getting any?" Schultz said. "That's got to be heartbreaking. When I heard that, that's when this whole thing got started." The packages are personal, Schultz said. He receives the names of soldiers from his son, so the boxes are addressed specifically for the soldier and include notes and "thank you" cards. "We don't want these boxes to be addressed to an anonymous soldier," Schultz said. "That box is made for a specific, not a generic, soldier."
There are green "Adopt-A-Soldier" bins at Robert's Discount Pharmacy, Hoover Fitness, Moonlight on the Mountain, Alford Avenue Veterinary Hospital, all in Bluff Park, and Buffalo Wild Wings, off Alabama 150. Bluff Park Elementary School is also a drop-off point.
The Bluff Park neighborhood website that Schultz maintains -- BluffParkAl.org -- has a tally of how many boxes have been sent. Schultz posts pictures of the goods so givers will know their donations have been received and will be shipped to the soldiers. He also has a list of items to donate and is working through a reporter in Iraq to get photos of the soldiers receiving their boxes. Interest continues to grow, Schultz said. He has received calls from churches that want to be a part of the effort, and Berry High School graduates from 1970 to 1979 are interested in collecting items through their December reunion, he said.
The city has given support to the project. The green Adopt-a-Soldier collection bins have been placed in fire stations throughout the city.
"I think it's an exceptional project for one individual to take on," said City Councilman Gene Smith, who encouraged the Fire Department to assist in the effort. The Fire Department has a strong history of participating in programs where donated personal items are collected for redistribution, such as Toys for Tots and hurricane relief drives.
Schultz said there continues to be a need for the boxes for the soldiers. While some people are under the impression that combat operations in Iraq ceased on Sept. 1, danger still looms, he said. His son's unit continuously has to dodge explosive devices, he said. "These guys are out there just putting it on the line for us," Schultz said. "We cannot forget about them. That's the whole thing for why we are doing this, and the community response has been tremendous."
Schultz said shipping the care packages has taken a toll on the website's finances. He said it costs $12.50 to ship a care package, and he encourages any amount of donation to help ship the packages. The website has donation link.
"What we are looking for is nothing big," he said. "Maybe a couple of dollars here would help tremendously." Schultz said the toys that were recently donated will be shipped for the Iraqi kids. The magazine and clown paraphernalia will be sent to his son to share with soldiers. Schultz said he is working to collect names of other soldiers.
Some people have asked him when the project will stop. "When they come home," he said. "That's when it's going to stop."
For more information, go to BluffParkAl.org and Adopt-a-Soldier.
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