Operation Pinecone Shifts Gears for Holidays

By Toni Maltagliati
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2007 - For volunteers with South Riding, Va.-based Operation Pinecone, Halloween is over and the Christmas rush has begun.

"We have 25 camps, four hospitals (and) two humanitarian aid contacts," said Mary Hacker, who founded the group two years ago after deciding to super-size a care package originally planned for one family friend deployed to Iraq.

"A neighbor came by, saw what I was doing, and said she had wanted to do something to help the troops but that she didn't have a contact over there," Hacker explained.

Word spread through Hacker's rural Virginia neighborhood and, with the help of a press release in the local paper, the women "were bombarded."

"Everybody wanted to do something, but they didn't know how," she said.

That was November 2005, when Hacker and her husband, John, shipped the group's first care package to a handful of soldiers in Iraq.

Two years later, Hacker's living room, dining room and basement runneth over with donations of Girl Scout cookies, toiletries, movie DVDs, music CDs, T-shirts, puzzle books, hard candy, playing cards, snacks and even blank holiday cards for troops to use. Another board member of Operation Pinecone has put a basement to use as storage space for the group's donations.

The group's name, Operation Pinecone, originated from Mary Hacker's desire to send a memento from home to the troops. She chose a pinecone, because pine trees grow in nearly every state in the United States. One pinecone accompanies each care package, Hacker said.

Operation Pinecone is a supporter of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.

Hacker said she has found her group's affiliation with America Supports You helpful.

"I think it's great," Hacker said. "It's been very beneficial to me. I can get information from other groups; I have someone to talk to; and I do a lot of referrals to America Supports You."

She explained that Operation Pinecone's aim is to concentrate the group's efforts to help the greatest number of troops overseas. When she gets requests for individual care packages, Hacker refers the individuals to groups who send personalized care packages.

"I would really rather do more for the masses than less for the individuals," Hacker said.

The "masses" include troops and veterans recovering at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Augusta, Ga., and Eisenhower Army Medical Center in nearby Fort Gordon, Ga. Two other military hospitals also receive Operation Pinecone care packages: the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., and Walter Reed Army Medical Center here.

Now that care packages filled with Halloween candy and decorations are making their way to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Virginia group is gearing up for two evening packing parties focused on Christmas care packages, Hacker said.

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Operation Pinecone Shifts Gears for Holidays [ ]