The non-profit organization Operation Shoebox New Jersey sends care packages to soldiers who are stationed overseas. Founder Rod Hirsch told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desiree Taylor that the idea for the program sprung from an Eagle Scout project he completed more than 35 years ago.
Operation Shoebox New Jersey began about eight years ago with the purpose of sending care packages to American troops in Afghanistan. Hirsch said the organization has also sent boxes to service men and women around the world, including Iraq, Panama, Guam, Japan, Europe and Africa.
Each care package contains four small boxes each with a clear bag of toiletries and food — about 36 items in all. “Basically what we’re trying to do is send small packets of things because they fit them into the pockets of their cargo pants,” Hirsch said. “So it’s very convenient for them.”
Girl Scout cookies are a staple in Operation Shoebox care packages, Hirsch explained, because the group has been donating the sweet treats through the Gift of Sharing program for the past five or six years.
All the items in the care packages are donated. Hirsch said his group collects items at supermarkets on weekends and gets help from many schools, veterans organizations and community-based groups. “Every day people stop by the office and we do stuff in conjunction with corporations as well where they will collect amongst their employees and they’ll donate things as well,” he said.
Hirsch said he did a similar project to Operation Shoebox when he was going for his Eagle Scout award. He gathered recycled newspapers to raise money to buy items to send to soldiers in Vietnam. He said at the time when he was in high school, he had many friends involved in the Vietnam War.
“Fast forward 35 years later or so and I was executive editor of a start-up newspaper and got this going as a marketing campaign to introduce the newspaper to the community. We tried to get the community involved in the project. We were very successful at doing that,” Hirsch said. “I subsequently left the newspaper and founded Operation Shoebox New Jersey as a 501(c)3 organization.”
Hirsch has been named a hero by First Lady Mary Pat Christie, which he said fills him with pride, but he also acknowledges others in his endeavor. “I’m very proud of that as an individual but it also is a reflection of the organization,” he said. “We could not do what we do without the help of thousands of people.”
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