Ted Simons: They're far from home. Many of them are based in hostile environments. They're America's military troops, and their daily sacrifices throughout the world can sometimes be taken for granted. But it doesn't go unnoticed by a Phoenix-based nonprofit that shows its appreciation on a regular basis. Joining me is Kathleen Lewis, she's the founder of packages from home. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us. Let's get an overview of what packages for home is.
Kathleen Lewis: Packages from home, we send packages out to our military until Iraq and Afghanistan, we've sent to approximately 750,000 soldiers now. And we're very glad to do that.
Ted Simons: How did all this get started?
Kathleen Lewis: My son was being deployed out of Germany to Iraq in 2004, so I flew to Germany to kiss him goodbye, and I saw his guys and realized that they weren't going to have the same things my son would have. Came home, told my girlfriends we need to do something about this and that's what we did.
Ted Simons: And it's grown from there, again, how many packages?
Kathleen Lewis: We have reached 750,000 soldiers.
Ted Simons: My goodness. What's in these packages?
Kathleen Lewis: Oh, my gosh. Anything from hygiene, from baby wipes, that we all hear about to food, peanut butter and jelly, those are some of the things they miss from home. Very important. Flat-screen TVs, weight machines and pool tables. They ask for and it we give it to them.
Ted Simons: Are there things you encourage people to donate, or DOD encourages to be sent, or conversely, things you don't want to get involved with?
Kathleen Lewis: There are some things we don't involve, I think we can figure those things out. Some young men like certain things we're not going to send. But on our website packages from home.org, we have over 100 items that are actually listed, and they're listed according to how badly they're needed. So we have those listed, at packagesfromhome.org, and we have approximately 100 drop sites where you can take the items and drop them off and we'll get them and ship them off to the troops.
Ted Simons: If I donate something, how do I know, first, it's getting there, and secondly do I know, am I afforded the opportunity to know who's getting them?
Kathleen Lewis: You can actually sign your troop up online at packagesfromhome.org, and we actually each package has an individual's name on it. We don't send to any troop, that's not how it's done. It has an individual's name on it. They're signed through packages from home and anyone can do that. But you have to have a complete APO or FPO, which is an address, to do that.
Ted Simons: You don't necessarily give out names?
Kathleen Lewis: We do not. We're vetted by DOD and we are security oriented, and we do not give out names.
Ted Simons: Do you ever hear -- I suppose you do -- do you hear from the soldiers?
Kathleen Lewis: We hear from them. They'll drop in at our center, tell us what they've received, how wonderful it was. They give us letters, and then we actually -- that's our wallpaper. We put their letters on the wall. You can read our wall and find out exactly who we are.
Ted Simons: It looks like some happy soldiers there.
Kathleen Lewis: They are the best.
Ted Simons: You probably get some pretty nice letters.
Kathleen Lewis: We get some very heartwarming letters. Sometimes you'll read them and we'll be in tears.
Ted Simons: I bet. You're not the only group doing. This correct?
Kathleen Lewis: There are 300 grass-roots charities throughout the United States. Not everyone does the same thing we do. There's lots of different ways to serve your military. This just happens to be our way of serving them. And it's great.
Ted Simons: I ask because it would seem as if there were more than even a few of these groups sending packages, you could have a whole lot of packages inundating the soldiers.
Kathleen Lewis: You can have a whole lot of packages, but the thing is, those packages and the goods we send are used and used up very, very quickly. So the things we send are always in need, there's nothing left over, and it's wonderful.
Ted Simons: OK. I want to make a donation. How do I go about doing this?
Kathleen Lewis: You can go online at packagesfromhome.org, make a donation there, right online, you can go to one of our drop sites and leave some of the goods that we've asked for. Very similar.
Ted Simons: There are drop sites. It's not just money only.
Kathleen Lewis: We love money, because we have to pay for all the postage and we send a thousand boxes a month. So it's very expensive. But, no, you can actually go to the drop sites and we will be glad to take those items.
Ted Simons: And packagesfromhome.org, which we've shown a couple times during the interview, that is where to go for more information on this. Before you go, I know you're working with another nonprofit on a fund-raiser for an Iraqi boy. Talk to us about that.
Kathleen Lewis: Little Hussein was literally blown up, and the United States military stepped in to help this young man and he has had some horrific wounds. So once -- he was here, he had some surgery, we've been able to bring him back for further surgery with “heal the children”. And so we have kind of stepped in and facilitated getting some of his items that he need back at the request of the United States military.
Ted Simons: OK. Talk to us about this fund-raiser, where it is, when it is, and what it's involved.
Kathleen Lewis: Actually I believe the fund-raiser you're talking about is over at Toby Keith's on Memorial Day weekend, and actually it is a fund-raiser for packages from home. And what we're took there is trying to raise money to support our habit on our postage.
Ted Simons: We talked about what got you started on this and how it's grown. When you started this, did you have any idea that this -- you would be here years later?
Kathleen Lewis: I had no idea. No idea whatsoever. But this task was placed in front of me, and I picked it up and a lot of people have come with me on it. We have wonderful volunteers, and of course, my goodness, how could you not want to, but help your military? They're the best America has to offer. They're just fabulous. And they make it easy to love them.
Ted Simons: Is there something that though you wish -- first, two things. Is there -- are there challenges we might not be aware of that you just have to fight through all the time, A, and B, are there things you really want out in in terms of getting this job done easier?
Kathleen Lewis: Well, we always can use more volunteers, of course. And fund-raising ideas, that's a big thing, because it does cost us money to ship these packages. It's not free. And it's not easy. So those are big things. But I will say this is a labor of love. To do something for your country, for those young men and women who are putting their lives on the line for us so that we may be here today. That's wonderful. That is just great. And so, yes, it is hard at times, but it's well worth the effort.
Ted Simons: You're doing great work. Thank you so much for joining us.
Kathleen Lewis: Thank you.
Ted Simons: Tomorrow on "Horizon," golf writer bill huffman talks about the Arizona golf industry and turmoil at Papago golf course. Plus, is there an Arizona link to the DNA identification of Osama Bin Laden? That's Wednesday at 7:00 on "Horizon." As you saw earlier in the program, if you'd like to watch tonight's show again or see any previous edition of "Horizon," maybe see what we have in store for the future, check us out at www.azpbs.org/horizon. That is it for now I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.