When Natalya Ravera and Caroline Milam send off care packages to soldiers in Afghanistan, they are sending more than just toothbrushes, lip balm, and dental floss – they are sending their love along with the generosity shown by some of their neighbors in Marion.
For weeks now, Natalya and Caroline, both ten years old, have been collecting items and money for care packages to send to the Army National Guard soldiers of the 379th Engineer Company stationed in Afghanistan – and one of these soldiers is Natalya’s own step-father, Derek Johnson, who has been away on duty in Afghanistan since April of this year.
On July 25, the two best friends stood by Natalya’s kitchen table in her Dexter Beach home as Caroline counted the money they raised going door-to-door in Natalya’s neighborhood. They counted exactly $153, the amount they raised just by visiting a few neighbors who dug deep into their pockets and gave more than just dollar bills – they gave twenties. One neighbor even went out shopping and brought the girls back a bunch of supplies to get the girls started on their first round of care packages.
“They went around and gave out flyers they made up for a care package fundraiser,” said Natalya’s mother, Jennifer Gendron. She said she and the girls have been overwhelmed by the generosity the neighbors have shown toward the cause, donating the total of $153 and the bunch of supplies. “They probably didn’t even go to half the houses they planned to go to,” said Gendron.
Gendon said the girls love taking the money and going shopping to pick out the supplies for the care packages, for which they made a list of items most requested by the soldiers stationed abroad.
The girls first got the idea for the care packages after attending a “care package party” organized by what Gendron called a “family readiness group” made up of area military spouses, partners, and mothers. She said Natalya enjoyed making the care packages so much that she wanted to continue making them on her own.
“I’m happy,” said Natalya, adding that she only expected to raise half of what they have so far. “I feel like we are helping people, so it’s just good to help out.”
Natalya and Caroline are no strangers to helping others out. The two girls enjoyed raising money for an Alzheimer’s disease walk and sold fundraising bracelets and handmade friendship bracelets.
“And so we thought, you know, we should do that again,” said Caroline.
Gendron said it has been difficult for the family these past months since husband and step-dad Johnson left for Afghanistan, especially with Gendron and Johnson’s infant son, Chevron, being just six months old at the time. But she said she is proud of Natalya and her friend Caroline, whose step-dad is also in the military.
“I’m happy that she’s doing it,” said Gendron. “And I think it’s nice that the two of them actually go around talking to the neighbors and getting over their shyness.”
Gendron said it makes the soldiers feel good to receive the care packages and they like when they receive anything in the mail.
If you would like to make a donation of money or supplies to help Natalya and Caroline in their care package fundraiser, you can email Jennifer Gendron at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We say that a little goes a long way,” said Gendron, “So if you give us even just a dollar, it could still buy a toothbrush.”
But no more toothbrushes, please, since they have already collected a whole bunch of new toothbrushes. The girls have a list of about 40 specific items they would like to collect, including beef jerky, white ankle socks, trail mix, mouthwash, and even iTunes gift cards. Contact Gendron for more information on how you can help the soldiers of the 379th Engineer Company deployed out of Bourne, Massachusetts.
By Jean Perry