SPARTA, NJ – Serving those who serve, a group of volunteers was busy at the Sparta VFW on Friday night, assembling care packages for forward deployed American troops.  Operation Care Packages spearheaded by Tina and Tom Rowan brought together group of about 30 friend and family to help with the packing.

 “These packages are going to a big sandbox in a far, far, far away land,” Rowan said. 

This year the packing party was moved to the VFW on Main Street because they have outgrown the Rowan garage and family room, Tina Rowan said.

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The boxes were packed with books, puzzles, frisbees, crossword books, snack foods, peanut butter, jelly, crackers, powdered drink mixes, Christmas stockings, socks, underwear, personal hygiene items, foot powder, mole skin, lotion, chap stick, deodorant and more. 

The boxes also include letters from Girl Scout Troops, Pass it Along and classrooms in Florida and North Carolina. 

She said she is hoping to get more boxes out before the mid November cut off to get the packages out in time for the holidays. 

“Right now our biggest push is for donated items and funds for shipping,” Rowan said.

While they ship packages year round, the largest shipment is this time of year.  On Friday, they had put together 188 boxes that were sent out on Saturday.

“Thank you Sparta Post Office for working with me on short notice,” Tina Rowan said.     

Rowan began the initiative about three years ago when their son Liam joined the Marine Corps. 

“We learned rapidly the life the members of the military lead is not one of comfort and they are often stationed in areas where electricity is from generators, water is ported in as are basic supplies,” Rowan said.  “There are no stores in many areas where the troops are deployed.”

As part of a group of Marine moms, she has vetted and approved to send care packages. This year the Rowans partnered with Salute 07871 and Sparta VFW Post 7248 to campaign for donations.

They have received some financial support for the shipping from individuals, Sparta VFW, Sparta Elks, Newton Moose Lodge and the American Legion in Newton.  The Rowans cover the difference between donations and the total expense. 

Last year Operation Care Package sent well over 250 packages, “this year we’re hoping to do the same,” Rowan said. Rowan posts information about making donations on her facebook page including lists of items they collect.

“When we can’t move through the family room anymore, I will post about having a packing party,” Rowan said.