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treats for the troops

Peggy Chiasson said goodbye to her son Michael, 22, a U.S. Marine corporal on Feb. 1, as he was sent overseas to prepare for Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is stationed at Camp Pendleton, Ca.

Chiasson said since Michael left, she has written and sent him care packages as much as possible, but still felt a bit helpless.

“It just wasn’t enough for me,” she said.

So, Chiasson went to her neighborhood association in Southeast Seminole Heights asking to help military personnel who don’t get many packages and letters from their loved ones.

“They agreed to help out and told me to run with it,” Chiasson said.

As of Feb. 24, Operation Shoebox emerged and Chiasson is leading the grassroots effort to send care packages in shoeboxes to U.S. troops in the Middle East. She said the project is getting an enormous response not only from her community but across Tampa Bay.

“It has been a little over a month, and since then we have received over 2,500 hits on our Web site,” she said. “The responses are pouring in.”

Operation Shoebox is collecting food, toiletries and donations for the packages.

“This is just a way we can do something in a positive way with the war,” Chiasson said. “(Troops) put everything on the line, and a package means so much.”

Chiasson said she is looking for people to take a few minutes to write words of encouragement, make a shoebox filled with the necessary items or write a check to help pay postage fees, which she expects to be about $4 per box.

Operation Shoebox is not the only program in the Tampa Bay area helping support the troops.

Julie Escobar, vice president of programs for the Parent Teacher Association at Mary Bryant Elementary, said her idea started as a school effort but grew as the war began. Operation Community Cares is similar to Operation Shoebox, but Escobar said her project is something more for children in the community, and more people and local businesses wanted to help as well.

“We first want to help out those kids who had family members who were deployed at our school, and it expanded to several locations,” Escobar said. “Now, it is a joint environment that includes all five branches of the military.”

Escobar said the PTA for Mary Bryant Elementary started with few hits on its Web site when the project first began, but with the support and guidance of the school’s principal, the effort expanded, and now postings of support and eagerness to help has grown from six to 10 postings a day.

“We wanted to let them know that despite what they (troops) see on TV with protesters that they are still loved and are supported,” she said.

Students at the school have started a dollar drive to help Escobar pay for postage. Sunday, they sent almost 40 packages to the Middle East. Each 12 x 12 inch box included a special note from a child and necessities a soldier may need while protecting the United States, such as tape, bug spray and baby wipes.

Escobar, a parent of three, said projects such as Operation Community Cares are a good way to help kids understand current events.

“There is something for everyone. It gives everyone a chance to participate no matter how small,” she said. “It’s a terrific way for the kids and for the troops to show that we care.”

Escobar said a person could participate by donating a DVD or fill a box full of items. She said the group of packages she sent out Sunday cost about $700 and of that, she had about $400 in bills that were from the kids at the school.

“The troops remember the little things,” she said. “I ran into a Gulf Veteran the other day, and he told me he still has every single letter and picture that was sent to him by a child at a school.”

For more information on Operation Shoebox go to or contact Peggy Chiasson at (813) 283-4745 or write to P.O. Box 311535 Tampa, Fl 33680-1535.

For more information on Operation Community Cares go to or contact Julie Escobar at (813) 891-6413 or send donations to Operation Community Cares c/o Mary Bryant Elementary School 13910 Nine Eagles Road Tampa, Fl 33626

Contact Stefanie Greenat