Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Lexington Nonprofit Provides Military Care Packages

Every month the Adley family meets at St. Bridget’s Church and packages bubblegum, beef jerky, newspapers, and hand wipes. These are just a few of the items that will make the 6,555-mile trip to Afghanistan, where appreciative servicemen and women will open their care packages.

The idea for the group FLAGS, which stands for Families of Lexington Are Grateful for their Service, began six years ago when the Adley family visited family friend Colonel Robert McLaughlin at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

"We were just so appreciative of the service that Bob and other members of the military were contributing. So in the days after we just kept thinking of ways we could give back," said 21-year-old Myles, the eldest of the Adley children and co-founder of FLAGS.

Since 2009, the Adley children have found out what military personnel needed while serving abroad, then learned the base addresses and sent the packages via the United States Postal Service. In the four years since FLAGS began, the Adley’s have sent more than 1,000 packages and said the feedback from both the recipients and the Lexington community has been tremendous.

Organizations around the community such as The Knights of Columbus, The Girl Scouts and Lexington Public Schools have found ways to contribute, whether it is through donations

Letters from the military consistently fill FLAG's post office box, as do pictures of the troops holding items from the care packages. On Sunday, Colo. McLaughlin presented the Adley family with an award on behalf of Major General Kenneth R. Dahl of the U.S. Army.

"It’s touching to know they start this because of their trip to Camp Lejeune," said McLaughlin, a Lexington native. "Military members don’t ask for anything, but when they receive something from people in the states it’s very much appreciative."

This wasn’t the first time the Adley’s were thanked personally for their efforts. Mary Ann Whalen received FLAGS care packages for months and decided to show her appreciation when she came to visit Lexington.

"Not only did she send a hard written letter, but she presented us with a framed flag that flew above one of the bases in Afghanistan," said FLAGS co-founder, 19-year-old Sheridan Adley.

Learning the trade

Like most startup nonprofits, research and learning through experience are all part of making an organization operate efficiently. For instance, learning the correct codes for each base was essential so the packages wouldn’t be returned in the mail. Finding out the ins and outs of the post office was something they eventually figure out over time.

"The people at the post office know us by name now, but we found out never to show up first thing in the morning with 60 boxes, traveling halfway around the world," said Sheridan who studies at UMASS Lowell. "Once we sat down and talked with them, they opened the post office early for us so we could get in before heavy traffic."

Then there was learning about the troops. Finding out what military members needed from abroad gave the Adley’s a true glimpse into every day life of abroad. While going out on long patrols, servicemen and women requested bubblegum so their mouths wouldn’t dry up. Beef jerky, which never spoils, is a popular item in many of the packages.

"It’s the things that we really take for granted over here that they appreciate the most over there," said 19-year-old and co-founder Keaghan Adley. "For us, we can walk around to the corner store. They don’t have that luxury."

"Anything is appreciated but I really liked the Crystal Lights [flavorings] for my battled waters," McLaughlin said with a laugh while describing his ideal care package.

Paying their tribute

The support of the community has become a large part of FLAGS survival.

The Adley family alone could not support the costs associated with sending packages to Afghanistan, but companies such as Cubist have helped with mailing, while Lexington High School has donation boxes for the care packages

"They believe in the service of American’s sons and daughters. It’s nice to see especially from our hometown,’ Col. McLaughlin said.

While people might associate war with politics, the Adley’s said the effort to support the military should not be decided based on partisan preference.

"Even if you don’t agree with why they are over there, they are over there for us," said Sheridan.

"The least we can do is proved them with a little bit of home," added Myles.

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