On January 11th I hosted a local geocaching event at The Ground Round in the Hampshire Mall in South Hadley. This was technically my third event, but since my first one was held at the Barnes&Noble where I work and the second was set up by another cacher and effectively adopted by me, I considered this to be my first real hosted event. The first event outside of my comfort zone anyway. It’s plenty easy to ask everyone at the manager’s meeting if they mind if I have a bunch of friends come hang out on a Friday night, it’s much less comfortable to approach a restaurant out of the blue and schedule a gathering for 50+ people. As it turns out, it’s not that hard at all. Or uncomfortable. Or difficult. I, uh, can’t really say why I ever thought it’d be a big deal at all. I just have a fear of interacting with new people. This is why I’m not in sales. Strangely, though, I’ve always harbored a secret desire to be a restaurant server. Can’t rightly explain THAT.
So, I’m hosting my first real event, and I’m brainstorming some way to make it more than just a bunch of cachers eating and talking. At the seasonal events I’ve attended in Uxbridge, they have a swap table. Anyone who’s interested brings an item valued between 5 and 10 dollars, places it on a table and puts their name in the box. Toward the end of the event, names are picked (usually by the kids) and the winners get their choice of whatever is on the table. It’s a neat idea but it does have the one flaw that the last people who’s names are picked inevitably bet the low end that the table has to offer. At the event I ended up adopting, we modified this a bit so that the person who’s name was called selected from a second box that had all the names of each item available written on the papers. Double blind, and about as fair as it gets. I was going to go with this plan again, but then I had another thought….
Shortly before Christmas, we had a new employee start at the store whom I came to learn was also an army sergeant, and had very recently finished serving a tour in Iraq. In the course of a getting-to-know-you conversation one morning, I asked her about care packages sent to the troops. What kind of things did people send? What things did the soldiers love to get? How would I go about sending such a care package? By the time we were done talking, I had a list of two dozen or so items that would make great care package fodder. I contained things like baby wipes (the next best thing to a real shower), all kinds of candies and small toys (for handing out to children while on patrol), pens (they had to be black. Must be a military thing.), and the most surprising thing of all that I added later: silly string. (Soldiers spray it into doorways before entering. If there’s a tripwire inside, the string will drape over it without setting it off!) Amazing.
That list did it’s part to clutter a part of my desk for the better part of a month. By the time I was planning this event, inspiration struck. Why don’t I put the two ideas together? I figured that if people were willing to spend up to 10 dollars anyway, maybe they’d be willing to put it toward a good cause. I ran the idea by my reviewer (something I believe every cacher should do) and while she liked it, she reminded me about that caches or events of a commercial nature aren’t allowed. This wasn’t exactly solicitation, but it wasn’t not solicitation either. I compromised by alluding to what I was planning on the cache page, and linking to the specifics over on the SNEG site. When the event day came, I ended up coming home with over 70 pounds of donated items!
The problem I now faced was how I was going to get all this stuff over to the soldiers in Iraq. When I organized the collection, it was with the promise that I’d take care of shipping everything. I quickly learned that that would be no inexpensive feat. The scenario I’d envisioned from the beginning involved getting all the stuff to some centralized location where people on the scene could determine how to best distribute it. My boss, also a former soldier, mentioned to me that when he was serving in Yugoslavia that the Red Cross has stations set up much like this, and that soldiers could get the things they needed for free. Perfect! I checked the Red Cross website, and other than not being able to find anything specific about what my boss had mentioned, I was only able to find this: the Red Cross is unable to accept any large collections of items. Nut bunnies. Okay then, how about the USO? Right? The USO? I found an email address for the USO director at the Westover AFB and sent her an email. After a few days I got back, If you are doing a collection of items for the troops you must have a name or address to send the items to. The USO does not send packages for private organizations. Next came the flurry of random Google searching for organizations online that could help. I found a lot of them. They were all very interested in monetary donations. They were not interested in my donation of actual things. It looked more and more like I was going to have to find a specific soldier to send ALL this stuff to, and leave it to him/her to distribute it among the rest of their unit. Or get rich cornering the black market for baby wipes. It wasn’t what I was hoping for, but it would certainly get the job done. So, until I could find that one soldier, and save up some cash, I boxed up the donations in a giant storage bin and gave it a place in the corner of the living room.
And for the next month, my living room smelled like many varieties of bar soap. You get used to it. I asked a few fellow cachers to look into getting me mailing addresses for friends or family they know who were stationed in Iraq. I wasn’t in any hurry since I still didn’t have the funds I knew I’d need to mail everything. And so it was that on a Saturday after our first real snowfall of the winter, I went shopping at the local Stop&Shop during the short time I had between dropping my daughters off at their Daisies meeting and then turning around and picking them back up just a short one hour later. Inside the door, right next to the cart corral was a small folding table populated by 3 or 4 young men and women of high school looking age and as patrons walked past they were doing their best to get their attention and hand them a yellow flyer. Before I could decide whether or not I wanted to be bothered, one of the young women was handing me one of these flyers and explaining what they were doing. They were members of the high school’s Young Republicans club. What they were doing was collecting items for soldiers stationed in Iraq, and those yellow flyers were a list of some of the most sought after items. They were requesting that shoppers purchase items from the list and drop them off with them as they left the store. Eventually, all the donations would be shipped directly to Balad Air Force Base in Iraq.
Caught completely off guard, the only thing I could say was, “You’ve got to be kidding me”, and then my attention shifted repeatedly between this list, my memory, and the you girl I was talking to (who’s name, it turned out, was Kaylie). In hindsight I think she may have started to worry that I was that person… you know, the one who strongly disagreed with one or more parts of what they were doing and was ready to jump head first into the No Spin Zone… Before she fully achieved a deer-in-the-headlights state, I came out of my own stupor and explained that I already had a large box of most of the items they were requesting. She said that they’d only be at the store for about another half hour, but that I could bring it all directly to the high school during any regular school hours. “No need for that. I’m right around the corner”, I said, “I’ll be right back.” Fifteen minutes later I was helping Kaylie load all the items we’d collected into the trunk of her car. She explained that her dad is a Marine, stationed at Westover, and that he’d already arranged for everything she collected to be sent on a regular supply flight to Balad AFB. She even knew what the silly string was for. Perfect.
When she was suggesting that I could drop off donations at the high school, Kaylie mentioned Feb. 23rd as the last day they’d be collecting items. We have a great local newspaper that reports on everything that goes on in this town (no kidding. When a group does a charity car wash… they’re there with cameras) so I’ll expect to see a write up of these student’s efforts sometime in the next few weeks. When that happens, you can expect a follow up!