Earlier this week, military neighbors around the Valley suited up and joined the Virginia Army National Guard deployed to Washington, D.C.
In a time of nationwide stress and confusion, a little care can go a long way. Local recruiters across the Valley are joining forces to collect supplies and send care packages to those actively serving in D.C.
Sgt. Don Arbaugh came up with the idea following the deployment of area soldiers this week in wake of the deadly Capitol riot on Jan. 6 for the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. After the call to send service members north, Arbaugh said members had little time to gather essentials.
“When they got the call, it was a few hours before they powered out,” he said. “We’re strictly trying to support the soldiers in Washington, D.C., and what they’ve been called to do.”
Arbaugh said snacks and candy are also being paired in care packages to help soldiers “keep calm, keep happy” with “a little piece of home.”
Monetary donations are being used to purchase items from several retailers and manufacturing plants, such as Walmart, Little Debbie and Cosco, to contribute to care packages. The Care-Box Project in Lexington is also donating supply boxes for those deployed.
Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Fretwell said recruiters often partner with the community to create care packages for soldiers over the holidays, but it’s hard to remember the last instance when there was an unscheduled collection and delivery of supply packages.
“As far as recruiters getting together for collecting items for our unit, it’s the first time we’ve done something like this for a while,” he said.
A survey was shared with soldiers to identify what supplies are needed, but personal hygiene items such as razors, deodorant and laundry detergent maintain the greatest need, according to Arbaugh.
“The soldiers are very much looking forward to the care packages,” Arbaugh said. “We want to make sure our friends and neighbors in the area are well taken care of.”
Calls for donations were sent out on Monday night, but Arbaugh said the Virginia Army National Guard has received a surprisingly large outpouring of support considering the short time frame.
Donation efforts are primarily focused in the Valley but are rolling in from across the country. In Bettendorf, Iowa, Capt. Peter Waller donated money through Kitchen Cook in Staunton, owned by service member Katie Curry’s family. Waller was assigned to the James Madison University ROTC program and spent three years in Harrisonburg. He said the Valley will always be a part of him, but paying it forward to support fellow service members is innate and no distance could stop him from supporting the troops in D.C.
“This is more about people as a person just trying to take care of people,” Waller said. “I’m sure that’s not how any of them were planning to spend this week.”
For those unable to send physical items, monetary donations can be sent to JMU ROTC cadet Adam Mayers through Venmo at @adammayers. The cadets are posting photos of their purchases on Facebook.
Care packages will be delivered on Friday. People interested in donating can call Arbaugh at 434-632-0570 or Fretwell at 540-717-4464 to coordinate drop-offs to the Army National Guard armory in Harrisonburg or pick-ups. Currently, Friday’s drop-off is the only planned trip, but if there is enough interest and need, a second convoy may be arranged.
“When I’ve been deployed or away from home, it’s always nice to have those care packages and know someone’s there for you,” Waller said. “I know what those guys are dealing with, so if it’s a warm cup of coffee or a stick of deodorant, whatever’s going to make them comfortable, it’s that small gesture of provision from them.”