By Contributing Editor Blair Drake
In 2019, Baton Rouge Soldier Outreach (BRSO) sent over 1,700 individual care packages to deployed servicemembers around the world. It expects to send out over 1,500 this year. To accomplish this, the organization relies on the support of the local community, including organizations like the Greater Baton Rouge (La.) Chapter, whose members volunteer with quarterly care package stuffing sessions, publicity, and warehouse organization.
The chapter started volunteering with BRSO about two year ago, after their paths crossed at several local events. “It happened pretty organically,” said Lt. Col. Reginald Brown, USA (Ret), chapter secretary. “We happened to be at events together and found out we had some common interests.”
Care packages are sent quarterly — in February, May, August, and November — at the request of relatives, friends, and coworkers of deployed servicemembers. BRSO chooses a servicemember deployed during each quarter and sends care packages to every member of his or her unit. Additionally, in between those mailings, when BRSO is made aware of a deployed soldier, it sends him or her a couple of priority boxes of items.
The chapter was one of 23 MOAA affiliates in 2020 that received a Community Outreach Grant from the MOAA Foundation. The chapter will use the grant funds primarily for postage, which cost BRSO over $8,500 in 2019. Most other items are donated.
“The Greater Baton Rouge Chapter will be blessing approximately 800 individual soldiers and their families,” said Christy Smith, founder and president of BRSO. “These soldiers will write home to their families and tell them about Baton Rouge Soldier Outreach, who doesn't know them personally but sent them comfort items and their love from home with their appreciation of their sacrifice.”
Brown personally has seen this appreciation from families. “It’s a very significant comfort for not only the soldier but also the family,” said Brown. “I can very distinctly remember stuffing events where the [family members] were there, and after we finished stuffing, they talked about where the packages were going. It was a very heartfelt thank you. It does their heart good to know that [their servicemember] isn’t alone — the community back home supports them.”
Blair Drake is a contributing editor for MOAA and lives in Souderton, Pa. She previously served on the editorial team of Military Officer magazine for nine years.