Commentary: Boxes for troops and cigars in socks

Greg Patterson's disappointment didn't last long.

Patterson, 15, knew the odds were against his cousin receiving one of the boxes he personally packed. Still, he hoped.

Those odds disappeared when he found out the boxes were going to soldiers in Afghanistan, while his cousin, Antonio Rooker, is stationed in Iraq. He hasn't seen Antonio, he said, "since my grandma passed last year" and he came home for her funeral.

Patterson and about 25 members of the Triangle East chapter of 100 Black Men of America boxed up 56 care packages that will help brighten the holidays of U.S. servicemen and women in Afghanistan.

Even though Antonio won't get one of his personally prepared packages, Patterson said he's glad to know that someone's cousin will.

Cousins, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers have been receiving care packages originating from a tiny white house in North Raleigh – Phillip Jones asked me not to give the address lest his endeavor run afoul of city zoning rules – for the past three years.

That's how long Jones and his wife, Sheila, their two daughters and their friend Ed Kesler have been running their Back Home Box Foundation to brighten the holidays of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"My wife and I and our daughters started this in our garage," he said.

"Sheila's father" – Jack Moore – "had been a Navy pilot in World War II. When we were going through some of his stuff, we found a packet of letters he had received" from strangers writing to servicemen overseas. "We were amazed at how much those guys appreciated the letters and packages they received."

The wars have changed, but the soldiers' response to learning they're not forgotten hasn't. Jones showed me a bulletin board with letters from soldiers who've received the packages. Typical was one from a female soldier who wrote, "It's nice to get lipstick/makeup or something girly every once in awhile to wipe away the ... dirty grime."

Jones estimated they've sent more than 2,000 packages since 2006, and many of them elicit similar responses.

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