- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

Businesses in the Washington area and nationwide have started sending care packages and donations to support U.S. troops fighting in Iraq.
Businesses are sending items intended to reduce the strain of warfare, like snacks, stationery, basic toiletries, music and phone cards.
In times of war, soldiers have said care packages with news from home and goodies like playing cards have helped boost morale.
But soldiers fighting in the blistering hot deserts now are craving suntan lotion, lip balm, Q-tips and eye drops to help dry-eyed troops stay alert in sandstorms.
"Units are requesting a lot of these personal-hygiene items and phone cards, and the public is really answering the need," said Beth Bradner with the United Service Organization (USO), a nonprofit group that supports military personnel.
Giant Food supermarkets in the Washington area are collecting $1, $3 and $5 donations at cash registers to be sent to the USO, which was chartered by Congress and has provided support since World War II to service members serving in a war and in peacetime duties.
The USO campaign, hastily put together last week, includes Washington-area radio spots and full-page newspaper ads, with large signs in all of the stores, said Jamie Miller, spokesman for Giant.
Mr. Miller said the donation drive will continue indefinitely. Giant also is giving away free tickets to the upcoming Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the D.C. Armory to families of deployed soldiers.
Several of Harris Teeter's 142 stores along the East Coast already have sold out of the $1 and $20 flags the supermarket chain is selling to buy $20 phone cards for troops stationed in the Persian Gulf.
"There are a lot of things soldiers aren't provided by the military and a phone call to home from Kuwait can cost $125," said Harris Teeter spokeswoman Tara Stewart.
The stores plan to send 20,000 prepaid phone cards, and 5,000 of the cards are expected to be delivered to the troops in early May.
AT&T; is working with the USO to send 60,000 hundred-minute calling cards to the Persian Gulf within the next month, said spokeswoman Janet Wyles.
The telecommunications company will send more cards, depending on the length of the war.
America Online Inc. has donated 45,000 music CDs and contributed 335,000 letters from members and $72,000 for USO care packages since December.
"While we want this war to end as soon as possible, AOL and its members are firmly backing our troops," said AOL spokeswoman Kathie Brockman, adding the majority of aid was received in the last few weeks.
At Red Lobster restaurants in the Midwest, store owners are collecting from customers nonperishable snacks, suntan lotion, lip balm, baby wipes, and Q-tips, for soldiers in the desert.
So far, 90 stores have collected items for about 200 care packages, and other owners are looking to join in the venture, said Wendy Spirduso, spokeswoman for the Orlando, Fla.-based restaurant chain.
Overall, company sponsorships have picked up for the USO Metro D.C. office in Alexandria, which administers the care package program for military members and units.
The office sends out on average 7,500 packages a week, but that number jumped to 10,000 in the last week, said Ms. Bradner, marketing and special events manager of USO.
In the past, businesses largely sent packages to troops overseas by addressing them "To Any Service Member." But the Defense Department suspended the service and "Operation Dear Abby" October 2001 for security concerns over potential anthrax attacks.
"With the changes in shipping regulations to the military, more businesses find it's easier to either send the items to us or donate money for care packages," she said.
Other companies are waiting to see how long the war will continue and what military personnel will need in the future.
Wal-Mart is looking at potential donations options, but plans to support troops with a national program in the near future, said Sara Clark, a spokeswoman for the retailer.
The Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse chain plans to roll out a national donations program later this week.
The Safeway supermarket chain is holding off on a donations program because of earlier commitments to have a local food-bank drive in April.

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