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G.R.I.T.S. enters third year of giving gifts to soldiers

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Pattie Reed Jones has started Operation G.R.I.T.S. for the third year to send care packages to soldiers in Afghanistan for the holiday season. Reed Jones sent more than 700 boxes donated from churches, businesses, schools and individuals in the Miss-Lou community and hopes to reach that goal this year.

VIDALIA — It started a couple of years ago when Pattie Reed Jones was talking to an old friend on Facebook while he was stationed in Baghdad. The friend wanted a few things sent to him from home, but could find no one to send them. Jones decided she would help by shipping him those items.

An ordering error at the post office turned Jones’s small operation that was helping one soldier, into a massive project that touches hundreds. Jones thought she ordered 10 boxes, but instead ordered 10 cases of 25 boxes. When the call came about the mistake, she said she would take the boxes and find a way to fill them. Operation GRITS — Gifts raised in the South — was born from that mistake.

That was 2010, and it is not yet Halloween of 2012, but Jones already has Christmas on her mind.

And, for her, that means working to make sure soldiers overseas are not forgotten on Christmas while missing out on the comforts of home and family.

Jones’s Operation GRITS is in the opening phase of its third year, and Jones and she is currently sending out boxes to local businesses and spreading the word to anyone in the Miss-Lou who may want to send a few stocking items overseas to local soldiers.

“We don’t want soldiers overseas, who are without their families while we are at home with ours, to feel forgotten,” Jones said. “Knowing that we are able to share some of the joy of Christmas with them (makes it special).”

Jones’s operation has grown over that past two years. The first year she managed to send approximately 325 gift boxes to local soldiers in Baghdad. Last year that number jumped to 700, with 500 going to soldiers from the 1086th transportation company of the Louisiana National Guard and another 200 going to soldiers from Natchez. This year the 1086 is back home, and Jones said she is lowering her expectations back down to 500 boxes, but she hopes there will be more.

Individuals can pick up boxes from several local businesses — anywhere where they see an Operation GRITS flier — or at Reed Insurance in Vidalia. Those boxes can be filled with a variety of daily items, such as snack foods, condiments, ground coffee, microwavable foods, toiletries, entertainment items and clothing. A list of accepted items can be found where boxes are distributed or at Reed Insurance.

Soldiers are not provided with many of these items, and Jones said to get them they would have to pay for them out of their paychecks. She said most soldiers send as much of their paychecks back home as possible, and therefore go without a lot of these everyday items.

One item that Jones is not looking for this year is canned vegetables.

“No soldier wants to open up a box and get green beans over there,” she said.

As boxes start to fill the storage room at Reed Insurance, Jones will start organizing the marathon delivery night that gets the items from the holding location to the post office. Reed said she is shooting for the first Saturday in December.

“We will meet up here, and people can come in and help,” she said.

The group will package all the boxes and make sure everything is ready to go, and the next morning the boxes will be loaded up and taken to the post office. Jones said it is a community effort, not only to provide the gifts, but also to get them packaged and sent.

“We have people show up and help load,” she said. “Every time someone leaves, we have someone else step in. It’s like we form a line and pass it down the line.”

Once overseas, the boxes are delivered to local soldiers, who then distribute the items to soldiers throughout the company. Jones said she hopes the items reach as many soldiers as possible from all over the country.

Jones said local businesses, churches and schools play a key role in make Operation GRITS possible, the project is one that the entire Miss-Lou community supports.

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