Operation GRITS accepting donations

Published 12:10 am Monday, September 28, 2015

VIDALIA — In the world of social media, clicking “like” on Facebook is a common way to support a cause.

But when it comes to supporting troops, Pattie Jones, founder of Operation GRITS, said it’s not enough.

“It doesn’t put anything in their hands,” Jones said. “It’s not tangible.”

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Instead, Operation GRITS, Gifts Raised In The South, puts a box in soldiers’ hands. The organization, which is entering its sixth year of sending care packages to soldiers, is now accepting donations for Christmas packages.

“We just appreciate what they’re doing,” board member Kathleen Stevens said. “They left their families, and they’re doing real tough jobs.”

Jones said she wants to let soldiers know they’re appreciated and people are thinking of them.

“I imagine Christmas can be a very lonely time if you’re over there on the other side of the world without your family,” Jones said.

The organization has come a long way, beginning with a mistake when Jones planned to send a few boxes to a friend in Iraq.

“I thought I was ordering 10 boxes,” Jones said. “I was ordering 10 cases.”

Jones ended up with 250 boxes, and she decided to fill them all. The organization was formed and continued to grow, run entirely by volunteers.

“This is very much a volunteer-oriented project,” Jones said. “The only thing you get paid in for it is the feeling of doing something good.”

And, since then, the organization has gathered flat rate boxes from the post office and handed them out so people can fill them with items such as toiletries, personal notes, candy, coffee, drink mixes and jerky. Stevens said she likes to include local things to remind soldiers of home.

“I think it gives them a little boost,” Stevens said.

Some items, such as alcohol and pork, are prohibited, as are another type of food — canned vegetables.

“It’s not a present to me to get a can of green beans,” Jones said.

Usually the organization asks donors to pay shipping, but because of money from Safeco Insurance’s Make More Happen contest, an award from the Monsanto Fund and other donations, Operation GRITS is offering to pay half of the shipping rate, which is $15.90, for people who want to donate.

Once everything is turned in, volunteers fill out U.S. Customs’ forms and address the boxes to someone local serving overseas, shipping them off on the first Saturday in December.

One year, the Louisiana National Guard unit in which one of Stevens’ sons serves was sent GRITS boxes while serving in Afghanistan. Stevens said the recipients were grateful.

“They knew people cared and remembered them, especially during the holidays,” Stevens said.

This year, the boxes are going to Staff Sgt. Steven Fowler in Kuwait, originally from Ferriday. Jones said the goal is to send him, and another candidate they haven’t decided on yet, approximately 500 boxes.

And, whether or not a donor or volunteer celebrates Christmas, Jones said it’s because of the men and women overseas that people are free to make that choice.

“It’s a way to say thank you,” Jones said.

Boxes can be picked up at Reed Insurance at 107 Carter St. in Vidalia and 210 Louisiana Ave. in Ferriday. Donations can also be left there in addition to filled boxes.

For more information, Jones can be reached at 601-807-6470 or 318-336-5202.