When Chuck and Terri Palmer first set out to send a batch of packages to their son-in-law who had been deployed to Iraq so that his guys could have a slice of home, they had no idea how big that single gesture would become.
What was first 90 packages then doubled. Then it shot into the hundreds. And then the thousands.
And before they knew it, the effort that they had made to preserve the memory of their fallen son Charles O. Palmer II – the first Manteca serviceman killed since the War on Terror began – by packing boxes for troops around the world had exploded into a community event that garnered the support of churches, businesses and even the city itself.
All of that was on display Friday when dozens of people gathered at the Manteca Transit Center to assemble what could end up amounting to 500 care packages that are destined for troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and parts of Africa – table after table stacked with the items that the troops themselves have requested through the Memorial Troop Support Program that bears their son’s name.
Personal wipes. Corn Nuts. Boxes of Girls Scout Cookies and breakfast snacks. Books. DVDs. Toiletries. Dental and personal hygiene items. Magazines. Books. Socks. And more.
With the support of Doctor’s Hospital of Manteca, the City of Manteca, Second Harvest Food Bank and a host of organizations, Chuck Palmer was able to comfortably say that the community and its support have been the backbone of the organization – evident by the teems of volunteers who had showed up to help package the boxes.
“This community has such a huge heart. We’d be dead in the water without them,” Palmer said. “Once people learn that we still have troops in these places they’re willing to step up and help.
“President Obama said that we were leaving Afghanistan and we were leaving Iraq but we still have guys there – a lot of guys over there – and something from home helps out, especially when the PX (post exchange) has closed down and the only things that they get are what the Army or Marines give them.”
And gathering the items themselves isn’t all that it takes to put together a care package.
On Thursday Second Harvest Food Bank dropped off five pallets worth of goods to be packaged up in this go-around, and the local Girl Scouts were able to piece together a delivery of more than 500 individual packages – more than 40 cases – of cookies that will be mailed out.
But for every $22 worth of goods that fill the box – Palmer’s estimated cost of everything that will fit into the parcel – it costs $15.90 to ship.
So when Doctor’s Hospital of Manteca, which has backed the packaging and mailing effort for some time, took up a collection of employees and physicians and were able to put together enough money to cover 150 packages – with $416 left over – it was a huge windfall for an organization that never has a shortage of people to deliver to.
“A lot of this was done through social networking and putting the call out to as many people as possible,” Doctor’s Hospital Marketing Director Kelly Carpo said – noting the hospital’s former Chief Medical Officer had a son that was a Marine and suggested supporting the organization. “It’s basically like mailing a smile in a box.”
Cherokee Memorial Cemetery in Lodi also chipped in with more than a dozen 33-gallon containers full of goods, and donated enough money to mail 125 packages.
The requests from the troops themselves, Palmer said, vary, but there are always a few things that are universal amongst those that are serving.
“They like those little Crystal Light packets that you add to the water to get flavor because if you’re in a desert country and you’re having to stay hydrated all of the time, you’re going to get sick of drinking regular water pretty quickly. They love that they can just put a handful of them in their pocket when they go out in the field,” he said. “Wipes are another one that they can just slip in their pocket, but they have to be non-scented – you don’t want to be the guy out there that has the enemy find you because you smell good.”
At the end of the day, however, it’s all a mission to keep the memory of Cpt. Charles O. Palmer II alive.
“We have the Not Forgotten thing here in our community, and this is our way of keeping our son’s memory alive,” he said. “I think that this is something that he would want to be involved in. He’d be very pleased to see this.”