Virginia Women's Group Donates Items for Troops

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For the first time in 15 years of doing fall service projects, the Mount Vernon Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated granola and energy bars, mints, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other items at its annual dinner Sept. 26, 2009.

The Relief Society teamed up with Judith Albarelli, of Alexandria who has been sending boxes to Iraq since her son, Army Capt. Nolan Albarelli of the 25th Infantry Division, was deployed in 2006.

Albarelli told his mom that some of his men never got mail from home and that they needed new boots. Ms. Albarelli began collecting money for boots and items for boxes. She eventually sent 35 pair of Oakley boots and a themed box for each of the 15 months her son and his men were deployed.

"It then just became a bad habit," she jokingly said about something that has truly become a labor of love. Capt. Albarelli continues to give his mom names of soldiers who don't receive mail and may need extra encouragement. She sends the boxes to the troops until they return home and then a new group of troops is chosen.

As people heard about Albarelli's project, they started dropping items at her house. She gratefully accepts everything. "A little makes a lot," she said.

Albarelli doesn't receive requests for specific items, although she always asks the troops when they are first deployed, she said.

Troops especially like homemade cards from children and when a new group of servicemembers become recipients of Albarelli's boxes, she usually includes a large, handmade calendar that they can use to count down to when they come home, she said.

While the items are donated, Albarelli packs each box personally and pays the average $13 each to ship them.

"I want to pack the boxes. I want to know what is in the boxes," she said. "My part always has been and always will be to pay for shipping. That is my deal with God for bringing my son home."

The Relief Society gathers annually to do a service project and share a meal. This year, they filled 40 bags of requested items, said Deborah Blair, a group leader. The items will be sorted and combined with other items from the community, she said.

"We have the servicemembers on our minds during this difficult time," Blair said. "This project blends the church with service to the community and highlights our appreciation for the troops."