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Operation GRITS gives soldiers little extras

Patti Reed Morris is coordinator of Operation GRITS — Gifts Raised in the South. This year her goal is to ship more than 500 boxes of basic necessities and leisure materials to service men and women deployed overseas.

Reaching for a stick of gum, popping an ibuprofen for a headache or playing a hand of poker with friends are just the little things that men and women miss when deployed overseas.

The necessities, and extras, we take for granted can be true gifts to service men and women.

So Vidalia resident Patti Reed Morris was surprised to learn that no program to provide those extras existed in the Miss-Lou.

Last year Morris developed and now coordinates Operation GRITS — Gifts Raised in the South. Morris plans to send packages to area soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan’s war zones for the second year.

Specialist Foster stands with Sgt. Major Ferguson in front of hundreds of boxes shipped from the Miss-Lou.

“I do it because I have tremendous respect and admiration for the men and women who risk their lives to defend our freedom,” Morris said. “I believe that due to the highly patriotic and generous nature of our area that many others also feel the same way and want a way to show it at Christmas — a time when we also remember the sacrifice of one man for our freedom from sins.”

Jamie Wiley, director of the Concordia Chamber of Commerce said the chamber has thrown its support behind Operation GRITS. Because so many packages are processed at Reed Insurance where Morris is employed, the chamber serves as an extra location.

Last year more than 300 boxes full of toiletries, condiments, snacks, clothing and leisure materials were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This year we are hoping to send 500 boxes,” Morris said. “I am just excited to have the opportunity to do something for the soldiers.”

Morris said last year, the Pentecostals of the Miss-Lou in Ferriday sent 100 boxes to soldiers, along with area banks.

She said for those who don’t like to shop, donations are also accepted.

Staff Sgt. Jada Jones and PSC Thomas tear into their box of gifts from the Miss-Lou.

“A guy gave me $200,” Morris said. “Most of that went to phone cards for the soldiers.”

Morris said folks want to help, but those who might not have any military connections don’t know what to do. She wants to make it easy.

Individuals can pick up a box from Morris and fill it with items, pay a flat-rate shipping fee of $12.95, and Morris will take care of the rest. Morris said she makes absolutely no money from the project, and checks are to be made out to the U.S. Postal Service. Names and address of the sender should be included in case the soldier wants to send a thank-you note.

Wiley said that soldiers especially love getting letters and cards from children, as much or more than receiving gifts.

“I didn’t realize there wasn’t anything like this when I started Operation GRITS,” Morris said. “It was so successful last year. I will continue doing this as long as God lets me be able to. Although sending the boxes is very needed and generous, the most important thing we can do is remember to pray every day for the men and women who are protecting our right to pray.”

Vidalia native Sgt. Major Wilburn “Sonny” Ferguson said getting packages from the Miss-Lou is meaningful to the troops deployed from the region.

file photo Patti Reed Morris used a room at the Reed Insurance office where she is employed to address 300 boxes of useful items for soldiers stationed in Iraq in 2010.

“When sent from the Miss-Lou area, it’s more personal, it means more,” Ferguson said. “I spread it around to more than 300 soldiers. And they shared their packages with other soldiers.”

Ferguson said soldiers were excited to open the boxes.

“They thought the packages were great (last year),” he said. “They took pictures, they were happy, and it was stuff they could actually use. One got a small financial gift, and he turned around and donated it to his favorite charity.”

Ferguson said more than deodorant and granola bars, the packages are also filled with hope in an austere environment like Afghanistan.

“It makes you feel less isolated, like someone does really care,” he said. “Less than 1 percent of people defend the entire nation. We get sent everywhere — anywhere — and people forget about us being in different places. It means something when people join together to do something like this.”

Ferguson said it was evident Morris poured her heart and soul into the project.

“She’s a patriotic individual and a friend of mine,” Ferguson said. “It makes a big difference when people get packages from a community. A lot of the packages had notes and letters, and they become associated with that person, like someone real sent something. It helped pick up a lot of spirits.”

For more information, and for updates and photos, Morris said people can look up the Facebook page titled Operation Grits for Soldiers.

Or, call Morris at 601-807-6470 or Wiley at the chamber at 318-336-8223. A complete list of acceptable items is available upon request.

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