DALLAS – It started with a group of kind-hearted ladies who met once a month in Dallas, Texas, to pack and send care packages to college students. In January 2005, their leader, Nancy Carter, a former Delta Air Lines (DL) Flight Attendant, had an idea that has taken the group to a far more significant level.
At Nancy’s suggestion, the women changed their focus to US military men and women serving overseas. And what started as monthly meetings in each other’s homes, filling some boxes with treats, turned into Airborne Angel Cadets of Texas (ACT), an all-volunteer, non-profit charity organization that now sends out thousands of boxes each year.
Today, generous supporters across the United States donate goods and financial support. Basic toiletries such as deodorant, lip balm, and razors, as well as coffee, batteries, and snacks, are challenging for service members to obtain at military posts. Packages from ACT overflowing with these items are a welcome gift and remind those serving how much others think of them and their sacrifices.
Not only do the troops love getting these morale-boosting care packages, but ACT is such a rewarding endeavor for volunteers and sponsors. Recipients often reach out to express gratitude, and those messages are always touching. Some soldiers have even traveled to Texas to meet the volunteers and personally hug them.
Over 3,700 care packages containing more than 45,000 pounds of donated goods were sent in 2019. The postage for these boxes was nearly US$68,000. Even during the pandemic in 2021, the group managed to ship 2,500 packages. However, financial support to cover the cost of postage has been and continues to be one of the greatest needs of ACT.
I recently had the opportunity to visit Nancy to learn more about this fantastic organization.
What motivated you to start ACT?
NANCY CARTER: As the daughter of a career Army officer and the mom of a Merchant Marine, the military has always been near and dear to my heart. During my 40 years as a Flight Attendant, I was honored to work with numerous military charters, where I learned the personal stories of many individuals we were transporting. On a flight in 2004, I met a young, nervous 19-year-old soldier headed to a war zone.
Trying to engage him in conversation as a distraction, I asked about what his family sent him in care packages. My heart almost broke when he told me his family could not afford to send packages. Knowing how much my son enjoyed receiving the boxes I sent him, I felt strongly about helping others feel that same connection while deployed.
While I regret not getting that young soldier’s name so I could check on him, I was able to convince my friends to add military care packages to our college packing days.
How many volunteers did you have in the beginning, and how many do you have now?
In 2005, a group of 15 to 20 moms adopted our first unit and sent 25 boxes full of useful and desired items. Throughout that first year, we sent 150 boxes to US military bases overseas.
Today, we have approximately 100 volunteers. We also have companies sponsor packing events and bring 25 to 30 employees to assist.
We hold seven packing events yearly with morning and afternoon shifts available.
How many boxes do you send in a year?
Since 2013, we have consistently been sending between 3,500 and 4,000 boxes a year. These boxes are fully packed to their weight limit, which helps maximize and stretch our resources to cover postage costs.
Each shipment averages 350 to 400 boxes with a total weight of over 5,000 lbs. The cost of each shipment can be as high as US$8,000.
For several years, we received between 14,000 to 16,000 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies, which we were always happy to make room for. Those were always a big hit!
Are there top locations to which you send packages?
Our focus has always been on supporting troops in war zones or hot spots. Most troops stationed domestically have access to basic amenities, so we focus on those who do not have that same access.
Most of our adopted units were in Iraq and Afghanistan at the start of our operation. Currently, we have units in Iraq, Africa, and other countries in the Middle East. With the conflict in Ukraine, we also have units in Eastern Europe asking for support. For security reasons, we do not divulge the exact locations of where our boxes are heading, nor do we list the ranks of our contacts on the packages.
How does the process work from start to finish?
We receive requests from specific units and then send a list of questions to better tailor the packages for their needs. We want to know how many service members are in the unit, if there are any canines (we care for our four-legged soldiers too), if there are space limitations for packages, if there is a microwave, or coffee maker, refrigerator, etc. In addition to personal requests, many soldiers ask for items they can share with local children and schools. Any details that allow us to send the most wanted and needed items are helpful.
We typically send about 70 to 80 different products to each unit to be shared among their team. If needed products do not get donated, we will purchase those items. Handwritten cards of encouragement are also inserted in each box.
We prepack some of our lighter, larger items such as neck pillows, tissue boxes, flip flops, cereal or cracker boxes, and feminine products into larger brown boxes, keeping them to a 15lb maximum so postage is more affordable.
We tape the tops of liquid items such as shampoos, lotions, and body washes and then double bag them to prevent leakage during shipping. Toiletries and foods are packed separately to avoid cross-contamination. Neutral items such as socks or playing cards can be packed with anything. Granola bars and loose candy are used as packing stuffers, filling every nook and cranny of space.
Every box packed is weighed, inventoried for printing the customs/postage label, numbered, and assigned a recipient name, then taped well to survive the journey. Boxes can take one to five weeks to arrive, depending on troop locations, so we generally mail them at least one month before a holiday.
The entire process of preparing for a packing event takes about six weeks. Once an event is completed, we quickly begin preparing for the next packing date.
Article written by Elise S. May. For more information about ACT, please visit https://www.airborneangelcadets.com.
Featured image/article photo: Author