That All-Important "Touch of Home"

By Mary-Justine Lanyon (Assistant Editor)

November 9th 2006

That All-Important Touch of Home


It all started with one package Bill and Diane Boone sent to their daughter Rebecca, who had enlisted in the Army and was deployed as an ammunition supply sergeant.

Before Rebecca left for Iraq, she was told she wouldn't have access to supplies. Bill and Diane did what any parents would do: They sent her a package full of the things they knew she would need and want.

Rebecca did exactly what Bill and Diane might have expected. She shared her goodies with her fellow soldiers. The rest is not history but an on-going labor of love for Bill, Diane and a group of volunteers.

Bill and Diane formed Touch of Home, a 501c3 community service corporation, a nonprofit whose goals are simple and straightforward:

To provide support for the United States military personnel deployed overseas.

To boost morale of the deployed military.

To provide practical support, by way of letters, recreational supplies and personal care items, to deployed military.

From one care package, their support has grown to about 100 boxes a month. Volunteers assemble the packages and box them up on Tuesdays in the Boones' garage. Diane laughs about that: “We had great plans for this garage. One side was for our motor home, the other for our SUV. They didn't see the inside of the garage more than a time or two.”

Instead, piles of boxes of supplies line both sides and the middle. Klaus Meister, who is a board member and treasurer of Touch of Home, and Marie Khovigian, a constant volunteer, were on hand, packing boxes. Their dedication was obvious in the expert way they packed things up.

Everything goes into plastic bags. It was the Marines who told Bill and Diane about the bags. “They make a nice, neat package they can slip into the pants pocket on their fatigues,” Diane said.

Each bag gets trial size bottles of shampoo and conditioner, soap, a mending kit, a razor. The bag is wrapped in a pair of socks and bound with rubber bands. These are put into a flat-rate box along with a military Bible (sized to slip into a pocket), ballpoint pens, memo pads, toothbrush and toothpaste, cotton swabs and possibly a magazine or paperback book.

The Boones recently were given the names of 12 soldiers who never receive any mail. It was the woman working in their mailroom in Iraq who noticed this and passed along the names. It was their packages Meister and Khovigian were busy assembling. They couldn't wait for the next volunteer day but had to be taken care of immediately.

NOT JUST A TOY

There's one other item that goes into every box: a stuffed animal of some sort. The Boones have sent lots of Beanie Babies and had just purchased 180 very soft bears. They were able to fold them up into a quart-size plastic bag and add them to the boxes.

The soldiers, Diane explained, give these animals to the Iraqi children, to whom they are a real treasure.

They also proved to be a lifesaver.

One Marine, Diane said, had given a blue Beanie Baby to a little girl. A short while later he was driving the lead Humvee in a caravan. Suddenly he spotted that little girl, standing in the the road, holding up the blue bear.

The Marine, recognizing the girl, and stopped. She stepped aside, crying. Behind her was a bomb in the road.

“What are the odds,” Diane wondered, “of that Marine driving the lead Humvee? It's a God thing.”

CHAPLAINS A GODSEND

It's the chaplains who have proved to be most helpful to the Boones. “They know,” said Bill, “which men and women in their units are in the greatest need. Who may be depressed. Who is in the greatest need of some goodies from home. Who may have an ill family member.”

The Boones recently heard from the commander of Camp Speicher in Tikrit. She is grateful for their support and offered to distribute boxes to the ones who most need them.

For each contact, Diane creates a record sheet. She tracks what she sends to each soldier and when. She asks them to let her know when they receive their packages.

E-mail makes a big difference in communication. Diane hears regularly from the troops she is currently supporting and continues to hear from former military. She sends out news about Touch of Home to them all and hears back how glad they are to see the organization growing.

“We're doing a better job now than when we started 4-1/2 years ago,” Diane said. “We've learned a lot.”

In that period of time, Diane estimates they have touched the hearts and lives of thousands of troops.

There is a seven-member board that oversees Touch of Home. They meet quarterly, with on-line meetings in between. All directors work hands on, helping to pack boxes. They also do pickups. They donate their time and pay for their own gas and meals. Every dime donated goes to the troops.

DONATION DROP SITES

The pickups are done at a number of donation drop sites located throughout the mountain communities: at Arrowhead Animal Hospital, Rimforest Animal Hospital, the new office building in Blue Jay, Vineyard Bank in Crestline, Acorn Bookkeeping, Church of the Woods, Calvary Chapel, The Rusty Hammer and the Crafty Mouse in Running Springs.

Each donation box has a list of items that are needed. That list, Diane noted, is always being updated. “We hear from the troops,” she said, “that this is good, that's not so good.”

The current list includes socks, Beanie Baby-type toys, school supplies for Iraqi children, DVDs and AA batteries for DVD players, sports magazines, travel magazines (with photos they can hang up in their barracks), beef jerky, tuna and chicken in foil packets, snacks in individual bags, individually wrapped hard candy, toothbrushes, toothpaste, Blistex (in tube with screw top), flea collars (which they put on their bed posts and around their ankles to protect from sand fleas), dog treats for the canine units and playing cards.

The Boones are once again supporting their daughter and her battalion of 125, which includes 20 women. They had some specific requests: full-size two-in-one shampoo and conditioner, disposable razors (in original packaging), full-size deodorants, baby powder, foot powder, full-size bars of soap, Chap Sticks, apricot facial scrub, 2007 calendars with pretty pictures.

Rebecca cannot disclose exactly where she is, but Bill and Diane know it's a “hot” area, both literally and figuratively. She is guarding an outpost and has been challenged many times by insurgents.

“She has had some close calls,” Diane said, “but the Lord's hedge of protection is about her and her men.”

Another special request she received recently comes from Major Seiji Hayashi, who is embedded with the Iraqi Army, helping to train them. “If you have anyone who wants to donate things,” he wrote to Diane, “I would say the ‘Otter Pops' ice pops are great. They are a real morale booster. Marine Patriots stop by to rest inside our base and I go around and pass out Popsicles. I like to see smiles in the young Marines doing all the hard work.”

Major Hayashi also told Diane his team gives whatever they can't use to the Iraqi Army. And, he said, “The Ziploc bags are a precious commodity. I stockpiled those for our troops. We use them for anything from sealing food items to keeping ants and mice out to using them as evidence bags when we catch insurgents.”

Dust is a real problem for the troops. Rebecca requested gallon-size Ziploc bags for her clothes to help keep them clean. She told her parents dust storms cause the air to be very polluted; she has to clean out her cell phone every day. She asked for some eye drops to clean the dust out of her eyes.

GENEROUS SPIRITS

Last year, the Boones received 12 pallets of hotel supplies-not just the little shampoos and mouthwash you might find in your hotel room, but also wastebaskets, ice buckets and plastic trays. The total worth: $10,000.

They sorted out what they could use and found places for what they couldn't with churches and other organizations.

The Boys & Girls Club of Cathedral City heard about Touch of Home and wants to adopt them. The Boones will reciprocate by giving them some of the supplies they can't ship to be used in the club's homeless shelter.

THE BIGGEST NEEDS

Other than more volunteers, the Boones' biggest need is money to mail the packages. They use flat-rate boxes, which cost $8.10 each to mail. At 100 boxes a month, that adds up quickly.

The troops' biggest need? “Their number one request,” Diane said, “is for letters. So many of them don't hear from their family or friends. They are just elated by handmade cards. What we hear back from them is ‘You have lifted the morale of our whole division.'

“All this out of our little garage. It's so humbling.”

To talk to Bill and Diane Boone is to look into the face of true commitment, true love. Diane's laugh is infectious; their enthusiasm is contagious.

For more information on Touch of Home, visit their website at www.touchofhomeformilitary.com. You can call them at (909) 338-0876, e-mail them at DianeBoone@aol.com or mail donations to Touch of Home Support 4R Deployed Military, Inc., P.O. Box 608, Crestline, CA 92325.



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