This month’s Mercer Savings Giving Mission recipient is Operation Pail Mail, sponsored by the St. Marys FFA, which sends care packages to American soldiers serving overseas.
Serving Those Who Serve Us
“This is our fifth year,” says Lucy Bambauer, FFA Advisor and coordinator of the program. “It started because we had an [FFA] student, Laura Wilker, who had a cousin that was deployed and we wanted to send her some stuff for the holidays. We were asking about what she needed. The soldiers overseas don’t have anything that is weather-proof to put their own stuff in when they get deployed. So we kicked around a lot of ideas and came up with the idea of sending five gallon buckets filled with stuff.”
Buckets are mailed directly to each soldier, hence the program name “Pail Mail.” Buckets are donated by Vogel’s Bake Shop. The program has grown every year, with an initial goal of 70 buckets. Last year, the students put together and sent 180 buckets!
Bringing Community Organizations Together
Community members are asked to nominate deployed soldiers whom they would like to send buckets to. The program has also worked with other service organizations to get names of local service members who have been deployed as well.
“Sometimes we only get fifteen addresses,” says Bambauer, “and in that case we’ll often send multiple buckets to individuals to share with their company or unit or whoever they are stationed with.”
Students also collect letters from elementary children to put into each bucket. It costs just $30 to sponsor a bucket, which is filled with up to 10 pounds of snacks and gifts, including chips, peanut butter, beef jerky, pretzels, soup, mints, and candy. Some classrooms will sponsor a bucket by having each student bring in a dollar donation. It adds up!
“It’s really cool,” says Bambauer, “to see how many people in our community, as well as kids in the school, work together and value the service that’s done by the military.”
Making New Friends
The FFA students also usually get correspondence back from soldiers that receive a bucket. “There was a service member from St. Marys who graduated and was deployed last year,” says Bambauer. “He sent a picture holding the buckets in front of a tank and wrote several letters to several different groups in St. Marys, thanking them for the bucket. We also had a soldier that got a bucket by chance from someone in his company, and he was a former FFA member from Indiana. He actually came for a day and talked to the kids about how cool it was to get a bucket from home while he was deployed in the desert.”
While the program usually starts accepting donations around Christmas break until the middle of February, donations can be made at any time. “We’re super excited,” says Bambauer, “to have such a large donation from Mercer Savings Bank to start our campaign for this year!”
How to Support Operation Pail Mail
If you would like to support this project, contact the FFA via Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also mail your donation to St. Marys FFA at 2250 St. Route 66, St. Marys, Ohio 45885. If you have a specific service member you want to send a bucket to, email their address to email@example.com. The servicemember will be placed on the “bucket list” on a first come, first served basis. The organization requests that all donations and requests be made by February 15, 2022.