Packing care packages for overseas defence force personnel are (L) Tam Geritz, Cpl Sandy Earle from Delta Company 9RQR and 9 yr old Annika Genrich at the Maryborough RSL.
Packing care packages for overseas defence force personnel are (L) Tam Geritz, Cpl Sandy Earle from Delta Company 9RQR and 9 yr old Annika Genrich at the Maryborough RSL. Alistair Brightman

Soldiers to have taste of home at Christmas

TAM Geritz has cleaned out the Heritage City of its Vegemite tubes so soldiers might have just a little bit of home over the festive season.

Ms Geritz has been organising donations and packing boxes for the last five years to send Christmas care packages to the troops overseas.

This year the volunteers and number of packages sent have doubled.

"Last year there would have been no more than 100 volunteers and we packed 250 boxes; and five years ago we started with three packages - one for a lady, one for a man, one for a dog," she said.

 

Labelling the contents of Christmas care packages were (L) Jane Justins and Kaye Kelly.
Labelling the contents of Christmas care packages were (L) Jane Justins and Kaye Kelly. Alistair Brightman

 

REAL TREAT: Tammy and Danyelle   Barlow pack  Christmas care packages for overseas defence force personnel.
REAL TREAT: Tammy and Danyelle Barlow pack Christmas care packages for overseas defence force personnel. Alistair Brightman

"We had 545 boxes ready to go and we filled them all."

Ms Geritz said the goal was to pack and send 500 care packages.

"Two weeks ago I had $23 in the kitty and half a bag of mini shampoos and conditioners and that was it," she said.

"I put the call out and it just come through from there. We had $4000 of cash donations plus there was a lot of product donations.

"There were things that you can't put a monetary amount on like the RSL supporting us the way they did - giving us the room to pack and another smaller room for storage the whole time."

 

Packing Christmas care packages for overseas defence force personnel is Jemma Williams.
Packing Christmas care packages for overseas defence force personnel is Jemma Williams. Alistair Brightman

 

Making a list and checking it twice were Rotarians (L) Di Paes, Ron McLean and Robyn Dowling.
Making a list and checking it twice were Rotarians (L) Di Paes, Ron McLean and Robyn Dowling. Alistair Brightman

During the packing day on Sunday from 10am-4pm, more than 200 people volunteered their time to fill the Christmas care packs.

"Before I even had started my intro, there was standing room only in the RSL's big function room," Ms Geritz said.

"Throughout the day I did three trips of shopping - so we went to Woolies, Coles and Fresh n Save."

"I did a call out to all the volunteers asking for the biggest car and one lady said 'I do' - total strangers, we said hello and let's go.

"We sent a message here saying we were five minutes out and we had 20 people out the front of the RSL pulling it all out."

 

Ready to weigh-in their Christmas care package were Helen Skene and 5 yr old daughter Mia.
Ready to weigh-in their Christmas care package were Helen Skene and 5 yr old daughter Mia. Alistair Brightman

 

Care packages - (L) Annika,9, Bonnie and Zander,6, Genrich and Michael Buckley filling care packages for our troops serving overseas at Christmas.
Care packages - (L) Annika,9, Bonnie and Zander,6, Genrich and Michael Buckley filling care packages for our troops serving overseas at Christmas. Alistair Brightman

The Maryborough Heritage Craft Fest held their stocking challenge and more than 300 handmade Christmas stockings were packed into the boxes.

Ms Geritz said June Kimber of Biggenden, who won the challenge, started sewing and knitting stockings, hankies and washers when she was five years old. She sent her first package in 1942 and still has the original letter she sent and the letters she received from grateful soldiers.

Ms Geritz said she would ensure copies of the letters and June Kimber's story were sent with the stocking she made for a soldier.

Australian Army Reservist Wide Bay training corporal Sandy Earle volunteered during the morning dressed in full uniform.

"I have received care packages when I have been on operations. They increase your moral and give a sense of purpose," he said.

"It is a great feeling when you know people back home appreciate what you are doing."

 

Care packages - Rachel Bishop with more packages ready to send.
Care packages - Rachel Bishop with more packages ready to send. Alistair Brightman

The boxes were sent on Monday at the Australia Post distribution centre and mailed for free.

"We had a couple left over from last year but we did not spend a cent on boxes - they were all donated," Ms Geritz said.

"I did a call out on Facebook saying let's get the ball rolling and by the end of the week I had 500 boxes."

Ms Geritz said there were so many stories, and veterans and soldiers just wanting to talk about their tours.

"It's not just the big donations, it's the little ones. On Sunday we were upstairs getting ready for today, and got a call from the counter that there was a vet wanting to see us," she said.

"When we went down, he gave us his last $10.

"I also got a call from another vet who didn't have any money but said he had a ute and time, and if I needed any carting to give him a bell.

"He then went on to say he was 20 years ex-army and he served in Vietnam and when he was there he received a Christmas care pack with a Christmas cake, and he said his fondest memory at the time was sitting down on Christmas Day sharing that cake with his friends.

"I then put that call out on Facebook and the next day Lions donated Christmas cakes. Even though he couldn't help on a monetary front, he doesn't realise he generated his own donations from it.

"One of our volunteer's friends had organised a donation of 200 gingerbread men from Christen's Gingerbread but, when she went to collect them, they donated 400."

 

Volunteers (L) June Tonkin, Hayley Skyring and Monica Parmenter helping send care packages to serving troops.
Volunteers (L) June Tonkin, Hayley Skyring and Monica Parmenter helping send care packages to serving troops. Alistair Brightman

Ms Geritz found the donations and stories just flowed. "Even when I was shopping with four trolleys - people would stop and ask why and then offer whatever they had left in their wallets," she said.

"It doesn't have to be big donations - it all means a lot.

"We had a donation of $500 cash and were told by a returned serviceman modern-day three times that the camaraderie was amazing and they share everything like the Tim-Tams, but one thing they guard with their life and hide was smoked oysters.

"So when I was given this donation, I was told to buy gummy bears and smoked oysters, so we did and they all went."

Serving soldiers overseas will receive a care package weighing just under 2kgs filled with items like toiletries, shampoo, lip balms, face washers designed into teddy bears, Santa hats, Christmas decorations, Australian flags, camo-dressed koala brooches, and handmade and designed mini Christmas cakes.

Ms Geritz said Rotary Club of Maryborough Sunrise donated $530 worth of gift cards.

"We spread the love, spending the donations all over town," she said.

"I would come home from work and find stuff on my patio."

"Another person donated an online order delivered to my address.

"One volunteer drove up from Brisbane with her family to help pack and donated $100

"A couple of schools got on board as much as they could."

At the end of the day only 20 packs of chips and some biscuits were left.

"We couldn't have made another box."



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