A flurry of activity at the Westminster Post Office had others in line turning their heads to see what was going on. Piles of boxes rolled through the door on carts. The small group bringing them in was on a mission, a mission to make a difference in the lives of Marines deployed in the Middle East.
The Christmas shipment, sent out on Dec. 2, was spearheaded by Marine mom, Dawn Geigan, and it was not her first. Earlier this year, Geigan had learned that United States Marines in Afghanistan were sleeping on the ground with rocks as pillows, no access to showers, and using baby wipes to clean up. Her heart propelled her to send a care package with pillows and pillowcases, snacks and personal care items. Then she sent another, and another.
Even though her Marine son, Kenly Smith, is not one of those Marines, Geigan said, “They are all our sons.”
“When you see somebody over there who is sacrificing time away from their family and loved ones, sleeping in the dirt with sandstorms around them and they are considered fortunate if they just have a tent — if that were my son I would want to make it better for them,” she said. “If your feet are blistered and you can give them something to help, or you can give them something for a headache, or something to make them cooler, you want to do that. Our government only gives what is necessary to them, not these extras.”
Soon, Geigan’s neighbors, family, friends and even veterans who’d heard of her work were joining in as she continued to mail care packages nearly every other day, adding thank you notes to the troops.
The Marines of Weapons Company sent a note back. It read, in part, “First and foremost, it has been a blessing to receive the packages you all have sent to us during the last month. The last shipment couldn't have come at a better time as one of my platoons were leaving for Syria and needed what you all sent more than ever! They were very happy to stuff their pockets and their backpacks for the journey with the goodies you all took the time to pack.”
Geigan calls her project the We’ve Got Your Back Care Package Project. She’s part of a network of Marine Moms all doing the same thing who voted on the name.
In July, Geigan’s group sent 46 boxes to the troops. In August they sent 60, and then 75 boxes were shipped for Thanksgiving. The Christmas shipment totaled 147 boxes. Locally, others are supporting her efforts, including the Ravens Roost 115, the VFW and the American Legion.
Geigan said her neighbor, army veteran Rachel Hohman, was the first to donate. The second to help was her friend, Bill Norvell, who has served in the Navy, Air Force and Army. Norvell not only donates items, he helps pack and is on hand for delivery day.
“They call me their packing husband,” Norvell said with a laugh. But his voice turned serious when speaking of why he does it.
“A lot of my friends are being deployed and I know what this means to them,” Norvell said. “Some of the places they are going to — they have nothing except what they bring. They are eating nothing but MREs. They don’t have showers or places to do their laundry.”
Norvell spoke of the sheer expense of overseas shipping.
“Today, alone, the postage was over $2,000,” he said. “One company [Signals Defense of Owings Mills] donated 25 pre-paid boxes. That saved over $400, but the bill was still over $2,000.”
Geigan said the donations they get are a big component in the support network.
Marlene Gienow, of Finksburg, provided daycare for Geigan’s son when he was a baby. When she learned what Geigan was doing, she recruited the Busy Bee Quilters to help. Several members of the Busy Bees made 50 neck-coolers that were mailed this past summer to help troops combat heat. For the Thanksgiving Day shipment, Gienow and two of her friends sewed 600 treat bags from camo-colored material and filled them with candy for the troops. Then, for the winter shipment, they made 50 camo-colored fleece helmet liners.
“It is cold in the desert at night,” Gienow said. “They sleep in their helmets. So, two of us from the Busy Bees made the liners.”
Although they purchased treat bags for this Christmas shipment, Gienow said the Busy Bee Quilters made and boxed 2,000 cookies to send — chocolate chip, M&M, sugar cookies and Snickerdoodles. Then, 10 Busy Bee members worked four hours packing 600 treat bags with candy and Slim Jims at the Finksburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library.
“And another one of the ladies made chocolate bark,” Gienow said. “We wanted to support the military while they are deployed to make them feel comfortable and let them know that we appreciate what they are doing for us. If it wasn’t for these people we wouldn’t be here. They protect us and give us the opportunity to do this.”
Dawn’s friend, Jackie Day of Westminster addresses every label.
“She calls us her Packing Party Peeps,” Day said of Geigan. “I am so proud to be a part of this project that is making such a positive difference in the lives of so many. There is no greater feeling than knowing you’re helping the troops that do so much for us.”
Day said they have their packing line down to a science. Jackie addresses all the boxes while they are flat. Then, a group assembles the boxes, others fill them and pass them to another group who fills the corners with little things, adds notes and cards and tape the boxes shut. Then Norvell stacks them.
“The boxes are ordered from the Post Office and we get a military flat rate,” Day said, sharing how when they needed more boxes post office employee Andrea Spencer found them 75 more.
Geigan said each box says, “Small town America has your back. Coming to you from Westminster, Maryland.” And she said those notes and cards are important.
“A good friend of mine, John Royer, is a Vietnam veteran,” said Geigan. “He said the most important thing you can do is to write. When you are over there, and you have no contact with home, you can’t wait for the mail to see if somebody has written or sent something to you, just to know that someone cares. So, I send a handwritten note with every box and I round up Christmas cards and letters from adults and from kids and they are in every box.”
Geigan said the project has been a village effort.
“Most people want to help the military, they just don’t know how,” she said.
Day had advice for others.
“Do you want to feel better? Get your mind off yourself and do something for someone else,” she said.
To help, email Geigan at email@example.com.