December 1, 2003
Susan Skiles Luke
Some soldiers get so tired of bugs and sand, they wear pantyhose under their uniforms. Others are so bored, they dig holes in the desert to watch fights between spiders.
Since the start of war in Iraq, Kathy Williams and Amy Oxford have made it their mission to send whatever help they can to soldiers sweating it out.
The mother and daughter have sent several thousand care packages containing everything from the requested queen-size stockings to beef jerky to magazines and toys. The packages have gone to more than 500 U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them repeat customers.
"When that officer told us his men were digging holes to watch the spiders fight, I said, Send those guys some yo-yos!'" said Williams, 48, pointing to some Old Glory-styled yo-yos bagged on a table nearby.
The bag sits among dozens of boxes of checkers games, crossword-puzzle books, bottles of hand lotion and prepaid phone cards. Although they are struggling with the high cost of postage, Williams and Oxford are determined to send Christmas parcels in time for the holidays to as many soldiers as they can.
"I'm going to open presents on Christmas and I think (soldiers in Iraq) should, too," Williams said.
Some of the items came through the 20 or so drives the two have inspired at schools across southern Illinois. Other stuff -- including a $600 stack of phone cards -- appeared in one of their two donation boxes in town.
Oxford, 25, first thought of sending packages after learning her husband, Jamal, would be shipped out along with his Army Reserve unit earlier this year. A medical problem kept him home, but Oxford still wanted to help others, she said.
She keeps a file of thank-you letters, both cyber and the old-fashioned kind.
One handwritten letter, signed by "Fred," told of the three children the soldier missed back home. "I appreciate what you're doing for me and my fellow soldiers," he wrote.
The project is not without sacrifice. Oxford, mother of a 3-year-old, suffers from Lupus, and Williams was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The two take turns resting by lying down in the middle of the floor of their headquarters.
The two say it may be next year before they get the money to send all the donations they have now -- let alone the items they still expect to receive.
We'll send as many (packages) as we can afford to, Oxford said.
They might get them by Easter, but they'll get them.
Copyright © 2003, Associated Press