Standing in her Lodi backyard, surrounded by blue and white post office boxes stuffed with lunch totes, letters and treats, with the refuse of hundreds of small snack packages scattered on the lawn, Tara Phillips breathed a sigh of relief.
She managed to find donors and fill all 100 treat totes for the men and women serving in her brother's unit in Afghanistan.
James Tecklenburg, 22, enlisted in the Army this year and deployed in May for a 9-month tour of duty as a cook. Phillips wanted to collect care packages for everyone in his unit, and thought she'd have maybe 25 names to check off a list. Instead, there are 100 men and women serving with her brother.
Through donations from friends, family, Lodi businesses and kind strangers, enough money and snacks were provided to make Totes for Troops a reality.
"I would come home each day from running errands, and there would be more stuff on my porch. Sometimes they would leave a note, but sometimes it was a total stranger," she said. "It's amazing all the stuff we got."
In fact, Phillips got more donations than will fit in the totes. She plans to sort them into small bags and share them with homeless people until the supply runs out.
A team of supporters descended on Phillips' home on Thursday to pack up all the totes in 50 boxes to send off by the end of next week.
Four long tables formed a half-circle in the backyard. Filling them was several bins of candy, trail mix, snack, gum and treats. Posters with the names of donors hung from each table. The volunteers formed an assembly line and got every bag packed in a couple of hours. Kids played in the yard while moms, dads and grandparents got the job done.
Each soldier will receive a small tote bag with "USA HERO" or "THANK YOU" embroidered on the front, filled with snacks, treats and a small Bible. Students from the child development class at San Joaquin Delta College wrote thank you notes and made small flags with handprints to send in each box.
Ann Merhton, representing Project Thank You, came by to assist. Project Thank You has donated $500 to ship the packages to Afghanistan.
Phillips is looking forward to having her office space open for use again, but she is grateful to everyone in Lodi and beyond who helped her reach the goal.
"I want to say thanks to all these people for stepping up. They don't know my brother. They don't know the men and women he's with. This is so personal. It's given me the perspective that people are still good," said Phillips.
And what does the brother think of all this?
"He liked it. He's pretty proud," said Phillips. "He said, 'That's just too cool, sis, too cool.'"
Contact Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.