From Monday, June 30, to Friday, July 4, Delaware Boots on the Ground will have donation boxes statewide at Capriotti’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Grotto Pizza, Brew Ha Ha!, Mike’s Famous Harley-Davidson, ShopRite and Kathy’s Crab House & Family Restaurant in Delaware City. The organization raises money to provide services for military members and their families during deployment.
While deployed overseas, a hungry Delaware soldier with cold, wet feet found his government Visa card had been temporarily disabled. He took a $10 gift card out of his pocket and bought socks, a drink and a pack of crackers.
He later told the donators of the gift card it was the best $10 he had ever spent.
Thanks to Delaware Boots on the Ground, a 501(c)(3)non-profit organization, every military member from Delaware who is deployed has a gift card to use for little things at the convenience stores located on every United States military base overseas.
The organization was founded in April 2007 by Kathy Greenwell and Shirley Brooks, both Middletown residents and wives of military members.
“We’re basically there to assist military members and their families,” Brooks said.
She said their purpose is to raise funds to provide services. They also work with the Delaware National Guard’s Family Readiness group, which is not allowed to fundraise.
“We want to be a fast-action non-profit,” Greenwell said. “We send gift cards to all Delaware soldiers in every branch of the military.”
Brooks said they chose to send gift cards because they’re easy for the soldiers to carry. Both of her sons have been deployed with the Delaware National Guard.
“We’ve done our share of boxing up shampoo and granola bars and sent it over, only to have my kids say, ‘Do not send one more thing. We don’t have anywhere to put it,’ ” she said. “They’re living in a tent half of the time and everyone sends them packages. They just don’t have room for it.”
Brooks said many groups hold drives to collect items for the troops and then ask the military to send it over on a plane, but there’s only room for soldiers and equipment on the flights. The cost to ship boxes full of items can be astronomical for such groups.
“They can use a gift card whenever they need it,” Greenwell said. “There is always a home base and they always come back to it. It doesn’t seem like much, but at least they know they’re not forgotten.”
She said they also sent a PlayStation with games to the Delaware Army National Guard 153rd Military Police in Iraq.
“They left the PlayStation for the next guys coming in because they had such a good time with it,” Greenwell said.
She said they look out for the families of deployed soldiers and provide things like gift cards to Blockbuster so they can rent a movie, buy a bag of popcorn and enjoy an evening together.
“We hold a Christmas party and Easter egg hunt for the children of deployed soldiers,” Greenwell said. “When they’re with kids like themselves, they don’t feel alone. All of the kids are in the same situation and it’s good for them to meet eachother.”
Delaware Boots on the Ground has a hospitality committee, which sends out things like sympathy and “get well” cards.
The organization also funds “welcome home” parties for soldiers with food, banners and flags.
“We had a military family in the area whose home caught fire,” Brooks said. “Their insurance company stepped in, but we were able to get them a gift card within two hours so they could get food, clothing and other items they needed immediately.”
She said another facet of the organization is their ability to provide automotive and home services for military families.
“If something happens with a car or house, we don’t have a lot of money, but we can refer someone who can fix a car or check your heater,” Brooks said. “The U.S. Naval Reserve in Newark has some engineers who have a lot of extra time on their hands when they’re not deployed.
“One is skilled in auto repair. One is a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician and another is a carpenter with his own business,” she said. “They’d like to set up a network of skilled military personnel who can assist military families. It’s unbelievable the amount of generosity that’s out there.”
Brooks said she and Greenwell are amazed at what Delaware Boots on the Ground has accomplished. The two women were introduced at a breakfast meeting through Chief Dawn Pete, the Family Readiness coordinator.
“She pulled Shirley and me together because we had a similar goal,” Greenwell said. “We can’t believe we have grown so quickly.”
Delaware Boots on the Ground is hosting its first fundraiser from Monday, June 30, through Friday, July 4, where donation boxes will be set-up statewide at Capriotti’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Grotto Pizza, Brew Ha Ha!, Mike’s Famous Harley-Davidson, ShopRite and Kathy’s Crab House & Family Restaurant in Delaware City.
“We’re hoping to get out there and really create some awareness,” Brooks said.
On Monday, June 30, and Wednesday, July 2, from noon to 9 p.m., Grotto Pizza locations in New Castle County will donate 20 percent of bills to Delaware Boots on the Grounds. Statewide Grotto Pizza locations will offer the deal on June 30 only. Diners must have a special coupon, which can be printed from grottopizza.com.
Greenwell said the fundraiser will commence at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark on July 4, from 4 to 9 p.m., where there will be fireworks in the evening. They’ll have a table for donations and activities for kids.
She said through corporate donations, Delaware Boots on the Ground has raised about $40,000, but they’d love to raise at least $75,000 during the fundraiser.
“We’re really hoping to send out gift cards worth $50. That would be a dream for us,” Greenwell said.
Greenwell said Dr. Jill Biden is the chair of the fundraiser. Biden was instrumental in getting the organization recognized by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner.
On June 5, Minner signed a proclamation making July 4 “Delaware Boots on the Ground Day.”
Brooks said everyone should keep a look-out this week for the Delaware Boots on the Ground volunteers in their yellow T-shirts. The fundraiser will go through July 4, but the donation boxes should still be out through the weekend.
For those who want to donate online, go to www.debotg.org.