Toilet paper and baby wipes would hardly seem like the makings of a holiday package from home. But to military personnel serving in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, they are a godsend.
Faith Steele is trying to deliver those basic necessities, as well as more traditional holiday gifts, through the East Valley Military Support Group.
Steele is in charge of the shipping of gifts to soldiers who will be in other countries during the holidays.
Steele started the East Valley Military Support Group in 2003. She is the wife and mother of veterans and two children currently in the military.
"I started the group when the war first started because I had two boys over there. They kept asking me for things like toilet paper and baby wipes, which I thought was a strange request," Steele said. "Apparently it's hard for them to get things over there since they're in the field most of the time."
The support group is a nonprofit organization. Its goal is to send 100 boxes per month to deployed troops.
"People will come to us with a name of someone they know over there, so we'll send them supplies. Most of the names we have right now are troops from Arizona, but we send supplies to other troops as well," Steele said.
The boxes are mailed to troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and to hospitals in Iraq and Germany.
"When I first started the group, I had about 25 people who had family (in Iraq), and we were sending supplies," Steele said. "As the kids came home, meetings dwindled, and people weren't worried about anyone over there anymore because their kids were home."
For this year, Steele is understaffed and needs help from volunteers willing to donate supplies and money or spend time wrapping and boxing gifts.
"During the year, we send things like toiletries and snack foods. But during Christmastime, I try to keep it strictly Christmas," Steele said. "We send little Christmas trees, decorations and gifts that are all wrapped in Christmas paper."
With the economic downturn, Steele is not getting as many donations as previous years. The organization needs holiday cards, decorations, clothing, reading and writing materials, sanitary items, entertainment items like movies and music, other gift items, and money for shipping charges. All contributions to the foundation are tax deductible.
"Most of the money that is donated goes toward shipping. I've had days where it cost me $1,000 to ship boxes," Steele said. "I've taken donations of just a couple dollars or as much as $600, but every little bit adds up."
The group, whose Web address is www.eastvalleymilitarysupportgroup.org, meets on the first Tuesday and the third Wednesday of every month at JB's Restaurant near Baseline and Gilbert roads in Gilbert. Anyone interested in volunteering may attend the meetings.