Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Troops Getting Taste of Home for Holidays

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Troops Getting Taste of Home for Holidays

Article excerpt

RIDGEFIELD PARK -- What began six years ago as a simple gesture designed to lift one homesick Marine's spirits once again brought Dan Greco to the second floor of the Westside Village Tavern on a Saturday morning.

"These are all things we take for granted on a daily basis," Greco said, surveying the piles of toothbrushes, shampoo, shaving cream, T-shirts, wipes, pens, combs, candy and snack bars -- all to be stuffed into boxes, bound for U.S. soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.

"We try to send them stuff that makes it feel more like home, especially during the holidays," said Greco, the founder of Gifts for GIs.

Greco's non-profit organization assembles and delivers care packages to members of the armed forces twice a year.

Most of the items the organization has mailed to Iraq and Afghanistan these last six years were donated by corporations, businesses and concerned citizens, Greco said.

"We hear from people all the time who are just grateful they are able to give back to these soldiers," Greco explained. As he speaks, volunteers continue shoving Pez dispensers, adhesive bandages, socks, boxes of macaroni and cheese and even sticks of beef jerky into some of the more than 200 care packages Gifts for GIs put together Saturday.

Every 10 minutes or so, another member of the community arrived with more items for the care packages. There are even donated toys, which soldiers give to children for information on insurgents, and flea collars, which soldiers keep to deter infestations.

The care packages -- each containing handwritten letters from North Jersey schoolchildren -- will be mailed to more than 30 soldiers, who all hail from Bergen County, Greco said.

The local soldiers' names were submitted to Gifts for GIs through its website and Facebook page, Greco said.

"There's a personal connection to these care packages," Greco said, adding that the shipping costs for the operation clock in at more than $3,000. "These are going to soldiers we know, and members of their families can come and put their own personal items inside. …

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