It’s hard to tell, but Mary and Jerry Fontaine have a large family.
So large, that they have trouble keeping them all straight.
“We went to a Fourth of July party here in the county, and one of the grandsons of this couple came up to us. He grinned ear to ear, and he said, ‘You don’t know who I am do you?’ And both us looked at each other and said no,” Mary said.
But that didn’t matter. The young man gave Mary and Jerry a big hug, one of the best Mary said she’s ever received.
That ecstatic man -- who still draws a big smile to Mary’s face as she talks about him -- was a soldier she had sent a care package to while he was overseas.
And he’s not the only one.
More than two years ago, Mary and Jerry began sending care packages to their son Don who was deployed to Afghanistan. As some of the items he received began to stack up, he -- as any good soldier would-- shared with his buddies in his unit. Soon, instead of just sending items to Don, Mary and Jerry had a few new names, and those soldiers began receiving their own boxes from back home.
“Don said ‘Keep it going, keep sending things. It’s all used, it’s all appreciated. Some of us get more than others, but we all share anyways.’ I mean, you don’t know how much that little bottle of shampoo means to someone that hasn’t washed their hair in three days after they’ve come out of the field,” Mary said.
And so they kept sending. And sending. And sending.
Soon, word got out in Navasota about the Fontaine’s efforts, and the community began to pitch in. The local Boy Scout troop held a spare change drive, and donated all the money to Mary and Jerry for postage. A teacher dropped off letters that her elementary class had written to the soldiers. And every once in while, someone will leave a package with items for them to mail, with no return address and only a note that says “For Our Boys.”
“It’s been fascinating to see all the outpouring and love we have received and can send on to them. And we run into people and they say if you get short of cash, you let me know. It’s really been wonderful,” Mary said.
Over the course of those two years, Mary and Jerry say they have sent more than 450 packages to soldiers in every branch of the armed services. And even with their son back stateside until February 9 when he will return to Iraq, they’ve kept on sending packages.
“We wouldn’t want to be selfish and just send to him,” Mary said. “The soldiers just love everything you send over there. Even if you think it’s a silly item or not important, they do.”
The couple said as time has gone on, some of the items donated have become more creative. Car travel games, old magazines and books, handkerchiefs, hand warmers, and even hand-knitted caps.
“And elderly lady couldn’t afford to buy anything, and she had time, so she knitted some caps. You know, those skull kind of caps, and the guys would wear them under the helmets to stay warm. It’s simple things like that that make their life a little better and a little easier over there. And it lets them know we’re thinking about them,” Jerry said.
And though they receive a lot of donations – including in the monetary form – they said every single bit they get goes overseas.
“Every cent we get, every item we get is strictly for the soldiers. There’s no bookwork we have to pay for or anything. If we have to pay for anything, it comes out of our pockets. Every cent is for them,” Mary said.
“Sometimes we’ll get in a hole and we have to use our own, but that’s alright. We’re giving as much as anybody else is, and we’re just proud to have the ability to be a pipeline to donate things to send to the soldiers and troops over there,” Jerry added.
Undoubtedly, the Fontaine’s already large family will continue to grow. They never stop taking names, and they never stop sending the packages.
“We’ll help as many as we can. We’ll do it until we run out of supplies or money or all they guys come home, whichever comes first,” Jerry said.
EXTRA INFORMATION ON THIS STORY
-- The Fontaines are always happy to help anyone trying to find out how to send items to troops overseas. Their home phone number is 936-825-3455, but they ask that calls only be made during a reasonable hour (9 am - 8 pm).
-- They also welcome any type of donation, which can be dropped off at their home at 10378 Glennswood Drive, Navasota, TX 77868.
-- Here is a list of items that the Fontaines say the soldiers love:
Hand written prayers
Neosporin, Hydrocortisone cream
Breath mints, gum
Hand candies, cookies
Single serving tea or Crystal Light or coffee (the kind that can be shaken up in a water bottle)
Summer sausage (Absolutely no pork items are allowed)
Protein bars, breakfast bars
Ziploc bags (of all sizes)
Stationary and envelopes
Magazines, books, games
NO AERSOL CANS OR GLASS CONTAINERS ARE ALLOWED