American food retailers are demonstrating their support for U.S. troops by sending care packages, computers and calling cards to soldiers in war zones.
Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway, for example, recently launched a program called "Operation Care Package," in which individual stores serve as collection points for sending items to troops overseas. The project began in Redmond, Wash., where Safeway honored local Army Sgt. Jacob Herring, who died in Iraq.
"The reactions were overwhelming," said Cherie Myers, director of public and government affairs for Safeway. "After the first event in Washington, we knew there was more to be done."
Operation Care Package will be a monthly event at participating Safeway locations. The packages include a variety of items, including candies, health and beauty aids, magazines and underwear.
A family with a loved one serving in Iraq can ask to have their local Safeway chosen as a collection point by submitting an entry to Safeway public affairs. Those selected are responsible for recruiting at least four volunteers to help with collecting and packaging. For seven hours on the collection day, members of the community can bring donated merchandise to be packaged and shipped to the soldiers, compliments of Safeway.
The first shipment was sent to Mosul, Iraq, on July 3.
"We collected 48 boxes in Washington," said Myers, "and it cost Safeway around $2,000 to ship the boxes to Iraq. It was well worth the cost.
"This is something that is just needed."
On another front, Albertsons, Boise, Idaho, discovered in late June that soldiers had very limited Internet access. According to a release, the situation resulted in hundreds of troops in line, at any given time, waiting to communicate electronically with family and friends back home. Albertsons donated 185 computers to Camp Anaconda in central Iraq to help solve the problem.
"After learning that our troops in Iraq often waited hours in line to send e-mail home to their loved ones, it became evident that we could make thousands of Americans' lives easier by simply providing these military personnel better access to e-mail and the Internet," said Larry Johnston, chairman, president and chief executive officer, Albertsons, in a prepared release.
The computers help troops not only keep in touch with their families, but also facilitate soldiers' continued education via distance learning. Albertsons sent the computers on May 31 along with 200 care packages for its associates who were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kroger's mid-south division, based in Fort Knox, Ky., raised more than $120,000 by selling yard signs with the slogan "Support Our Troops and Their Families" at 34 store locations. Each 14-by-22-inch sign was sold for $5.
Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., through its Family Fare supermarkets, joined with the West Michigan Military Family Support Network and The Salvation Army to sponsor a rally supporting troops on July 17. According to local reports, hundreds of people attended the event, which featured live music, free food and a 21-gun salute.
Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., has also supported the troops in a variety of ways.
For employees who have been called to serve, Wal-Mart has committed to make up any difference if their military pay is less than their regular wages. It also continues to provide benefits, the company said in a release.
Wal-Mart has given more than $1 million to organizations providing support to the families of troops, the company said, and it has an ongoing program to keep families in contact through the company's gift registry kiosks. The service, introduced in March, lets customers send messages of support to the men and women in the military. The company also donated phone cards and supplies valued at $49,000 to wounded soldiers overseas in various hospitals, including Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Wal-Mart and Kodak Picture Maker also teamed up to provide a "Wall of Honor" where customers could display a picture of a U.S. soldier to pay tribute to the servicemen and women from their communities.
"There are a lot of things Wal-Mart is doing for our troops," added Wendy Sept, manager, corporate communications, Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart isn't the only retailer donating calling cards. Dallas-based 7-Eleven partnered with Verizon, New York, to initiate a "Family Front Prepaid Phone Card Campaign." The companies donated 325,000 prepaid phone cards to families of reservists and National Guard members. According to a release, the donated cards total nearly 10 million free minutes.
"Family and community support is crucial to the well-being of those with loved ones serving overseas," said Tim McCallum, director of services, 7-Eleven, in a release. "When called to active duty, Guard members and reservists must leave their everyday lives, their jobs and their families. The families experience a sudden change in lifestyle as well. It's our hope that by providing the means to make phone calls to relatives or friends in the same situation, we can give some peace of mind to those who are especially affected by the war."
Each card has 30 minutes of prepaid long distance, which may be used for direct-dialed calls to anywhere in the United States.
In another effort, retailers such as Albertsons' Jewel division, Melrose Park, Ill.; Harris Teeter, Matthews, N.C.; Stater Bros., Colton, Calif.; Kroger's King Soopers division, Denver, and its Food 4 Less chain, Compton, Calif.; Marsh Supermarkets, Indianapolis; Lowes Foods, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Giant, Sikeston, Mo.; and Kmart, Troy, Mich., are hosting a Mass Connections postcard-writing campaign called "Connecting With Our Soldiers."
The drive began early in July and allows consumers to write personal messages on a postcard, which is then mailed abroad, compliments of Mass Connections, Cerritos, Calif. Three units in Iraq and one unit in Afghanistan have received postcards, and more are on the way.
"There are countless soldiers in harm's way that don't receive much mail," said Caroline Nakken, president and chief executive officer, Mass Connections, in a release. "In fact, some receive nothing at all. We wanted to let them know how much we care and appreciate their sacrifice."