The Ahwatukee Recreation Center Support the Troops program is collecting donations to send care packages to troops overseas. Through Nov. 5 items collected from the drive will be sent to U.S. servicemen and servicewomen operating internationally for the holiday season.

"We're just trying to say, ‘Thank you for doing this for us,'" said Amy Nicholls, activities coordinator at the recreation center.

Items requested by the program include snacks, socks and T-shirts, hand sanitizer and toothpaste. Of particular importance to soldiers are hard candies and other individually packed snacks, flavoring for water, black and white socks and hair bands or clips, Nicholls said. In addition, she said the soldiers always appreciate getting cards from people, even if they have never met. Unfortunately, many people forget just how much a personal greeting or thank you means to them, she said.

"Personal cards and thank you notes are some of the hardest things to get," Nicholls said.

The program began two years ago when members from the center decided to send a single package overseas in memory of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. The movement grew from there and since then they have put together 288 care packages. The group hopes to assemble 100 more packages this year.

"The whole community seems to come around and support this program," Nicholls said.

After the donations have been collected members of the center will put the packages together to get them ready for shipping. From there, the packages will be taken to Luke Air Force Base. The donated items will then join others in Operation Thunderbox, a drive operating out of Luke Air Force Base.

"One-hundred percent of the donations go right back into the care packages," Nicholls said. "I think that's very unique, where 100 percent goes right back into the program."

Residents can send a package directly to friends or relatives overseas by providing the recreation center with an address.

One soldier who received a package was especially touched by the gift. His mother, a member of the recreation center who helps with the drive, recalled her son's appreciation.

"He said that was absolutely delightful," Rosie Grover, 69, said. "The soldiers had stockings hanging everywhere. That was the only sign of Christmas they had."

Wanda Bassett, an Ahwatukee resident and member of the recreation center, said she has a nephew in the Army who also received a package through the program.

"He was so grateful that everybody remembers him over there," she said.

Sending items to soldiers wasn't always simple, though, Bassett, 70, said.

"I had a brother in Vietnam, and it was so hard to get things to him," she said. "This program is so great the way they get it to those guys."

Local schools are also working to support the program. Students from the Sonoran Science Academy and Archway Classical Academy are making cards for the soldiers, Nicholls said.

In turn, soldiers have shown their appreciation to the Ahwatukee-based program. One soldier visited the center and presented them with the flag that flew over his base.

"This is our thank you to them, and we don't expect anything in return," Nicholls said, adding that it was good to hear soldiers appreciate their work. "It's all volunteers and donations, and that makes it even better."

Josh Snyder is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a senior at Arizona State University.

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