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Dawn Worrall’s project to send love to military service members overseas during the holidays, which was inspired by her son attending West Point, started at her kitchen table in 2013 and has grown to fill warehouses and churches.
“I wanted to connect military families with nonmilitary families,” said Worrall, who grew up in a Navy family. “It seemed to be missing from my community.”
Worrall first decided to send care packages to 10 Army soldiers who were overseas for Christmas and reached out to friends about collecting goodies to send them. She signed up through the 300 Boodle Brigade, an organization started by another West Point mom a year earlier that sent 300 packages to troops. “Boodle” is military slang for junk food.
But Worrall ended up with too much stuff left on her doorstep – enough treats, games and other items for 50 packages. She put them together herself along a kitchen-table assembly line within a week.
That was the beginning of the 300 Boodle Brigade Spokane.
“People just bring out their best and want to share,” Worrall said.
The next year Worrall signed up for 50 boxes and gave herself a month to prepare. Again, people overdelivered. She collected enough supplies for 80 boxes and cleared out her living room to make space for the nearly 20 people who wanted to help wrap them.
Everyone put down their phones and talked around the table as they worked, Worrall said.
“If we talked about military stuff great,” Worrall said. “If we didn’t, I made sure we did a little bit just to make sure people are thinking about them.”
In 2015, she started working three months in advance with a goal of 100 packages. She even planned fundraisers to offset shipping costs. Garnier donated four flats of shampoo. 2nd Look Books set aside reading materials for troops, and an outdoor adventure company gave her reusable water bottles.
Worrall had to find a warehouse for Garnier to ship the shampoo to, then she stored all the supplies at a friend’s home. All told, she had enough to ship boxes for 300 troops that year. The post office opened early for her to get them sent off.
But Worrall didn’t stop there. The brigade kept growing.
Worrall in 2016 expanded her shipments to year-round, not just the holidays, and all branches of the military. Before Christmas the brigade had already sent 200 packages to service members.
A team of volunteers put together 550 packages at the brigade’s main event in December. Worrall gathered the volunteers and supplies at the Felts Field military museum for adequate space. The Gonzaga University ROTC came, and local singer Maddie Burgess sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
After the museum closed, though, the brigade needed a new home base.
That was about the time a friend of Worrall’s told women’s Relief Society President Michele Holbrook about the 300 Boodle Brigade Spokane.
“We thought this was a perfect organization to team up with to do some significant work that would benefit our service men and women overseas,” said Holbrook, whose organization is affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Spokane.
Last year, the brigade put together another 550 packages at the church’s meetinghouse on East 29th Avenue, adding to an annual total of 850 boxes in 2018. This year, her group raised about $2,000 for the brigade’s shipping costs, then they helped write Christmas letters and make caps during a September event.
“It’s been a wonderful community partnership,” Holbrook said.
The brigade returned to Holbrook’s church in late November this year – an earlier event so packages could make it to remote bases by Christmas – and put together 750 boxes. The group had already sent 250 packages earlier in the year and has sent close to 100 more since the November event.
“I wish there was some way to communicate what it was like with 300 people in a room working together – the energy, the joy,” Holbrook said. “That’s what happens when we forget about ourselves and think about others. … It makes us happy in other ways we wouldn’t be otherwise.”
By the first week in December, Worrall was hearing back from troops who had received their packages.
One of them was 1st Lt. Erin Hagerty, an Army transportation officer from the Spokane area who is serving on her second tour the Middle East. She had five months between deployments and is now the acting executive officer of her company.
The 300 Boodle Brigade sent packages for Hagerty’s whole unit.
“For a few of my soldiers, the care package they received from Dawn is the only one they will receive during this Christmas season,” Hagerty wrote in an email. “Knowing that people still care about those of us serving overseas means a lot to us as we struggle with falling into a new routine away from the comforts of home, family, and friends, all while trying to make new friends, and live out of 2 duffel bags and a ruck sack in an 8-by-10-foot space.”
Holbrook said a service member stood up and raised her hand during a Relief Society presentation about the 300 Boodle Brigade Spokane. She said she’d received a package before and later spoke at the brigade’s November event.
“It was the only thing I received all year,” Holbrook remembered her saying. “There was a letter in that box and I kept it in my pocket my entire deployment to remind me I was seen and I was loved.”
But Worrall is reluctant to take credit for the brigade’s work. She instead emphasizes the work of other volunteers and troops.
“She just wants the work to be done to benefit others,” Holbrook said.
Worrall has had 3-year-olds packing earbuds into boxes and 80-year-olds prepping spice packets from a Montana company. Dentists collect candy from buyback programs. Girls from Daybreak Youth Services put that candy into water bottles. And Northern Quest gives her playing cards to ship. One woman makes 500 fleece hats each year.
She works with different charities like Mothers Of Military Support and Heroes Homestead each year to jointly raise money. Those fundraisers helped Worrall raise nearly $18,000 for shipping costs this year.
“It’s more about the volunteers,” she said. “It’s more about the brigade.”
She said the most rewarding part of her work is hearing back from the troops.
“I love hearing from them,” Worrall said. “Even just one thank you makes it more real – that that human connection happened.”
Any shipment of fewer than 50 packages goes through her house, where people wrap gifts around a table.
“I don’t want to lose that part of it,” Worrall said. “There’s a lot of hugging that goes on.”
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