Clifton Cares is Love in a Mailing Box
Remember being a kid at sleep-away camp and getting a care package from home? The excitement of wondering what was in the box, ripping it open, hoping for your favorite candy, and then sharing it (maybe!) with your bunkmates…those were the highlights of your day.
Now imagine yourself half a world away, serving your country proudly, yet homesick and missing the comforts we take for granted. Clifton Cares thinks of these heroes every day and wants to make sure their duty is less stressful. The group was started in 2010 when Clifton resident Dona Crum’s son Scott was deployed to Afghanistan. She was surprised when she found out that he needed such basics as hand sanitizer, snacks, lip balm, and things to do while off-duty. Friends of the Crums asked what they could do to help and started to send out boxes of supplies, which Scott then shared. Word spread, names of other Clifton soldiers were sent, and it “just grew from there” said Dona. “We always got at least 20 names of boys and girls overseas to send boxes to, and our residents are great about donating what we ask for, and money for postage to mail the boxes overseas.”
Chris Liszner had sent packages through another group of retired Verizon workers, the Pioneers. When her friend Joann Mack got a memo from co-worker and Crum’s friend, Clifton Tax Assessor Lizz Gagnon, that Clifton was starting a group to assemble these packages, the groups started to work together. They called themselves “Clifton Cares,” and asked for donations of goods and money for postage and supplies. Sometimes, over 100 boxes were shipped out. Mailings took place four times a year, usually around various holidays.
Pre-Covid, packing was a community event. Local schools, ROTC, Key Club, Scouts, and Boys and Girls club children would write cards, help with packing, and of course, would learn about helping others. The adults assembled boxes, separated items – food items can’t be packed together with health items or clothing – prepared shipping labels and manifests, and then brought them to the Post Office to make sure they were properly dispatched. Packers told of the challenges of “putting as much as possible” into each box, as they are shipped at a standard per-box cost, not by weight. Covid was, of course, a game-changer. Collecting items, packing and mailing out was put on hold, even as the need for supplies continued overseas. Bases were not even able to accept packages. Still, our residents rose to the occasion, sending out cards and letters as well as stamps and envelopes so that those overseas could send out their own mail.
Dona Crum told The Clifton Times about a time she met a clean-cut young man who called her “Ma’am.” Turns out he was from Clifton and had been one of the lucky recipients of a Clifton Cares package. He hugged her in appreciation. “That hug makes it all worthwhile!” she said, adding that they often get thank-you cards and that the most appreciated items are the children’s cards. “When we get a name of a solider we try to find out what he or she likes, like pancakes, or chocolate chip cookies, and then we put that in the box as a special treat!” At packing, the three original organizers would take turns reading out loud the thank you notes received, perfect inspiration and the reason the volunteers came to give not just money and supplies, but time.
Chris Liszner said, “We couldn’t continue Clifton Cares if we didn’t have loyal supporters, the best volunteers and caring citizens of Clifton.” She added that the group is always taking down names and addresses for deployed Clifton military, literally hundreds over the years. She added that if anyone has a name of a deployed soldier, to call Chris at 973-650-2719 or Dona at 973-881-7295.
On a personal note, my son was a recipient of two mailings for two submarine deployments. Subs have even fewer “luxury” supplies onboard due to space limitations and Clifton Cares was able to time their delivery so that goodies would get to the subs at the point where they were in need not only of treats but also a touch of home, as subs are often on radio silence. My son echoed a sentiment we often heard from others, “It’s hard to believe people who don’t know us take the time to think of us, buy all this, and spoil us with love to share with our military family.”
Supplies, as well as money for mailings – it costs $20 per APO/FPO package, and that’s the military discount – are always needed. Supplies can be dropped off at a dedicated box located inside Clifton City Hall. Supplies needed include, but are not limited to:
Health and hygiene: Body wash and bar soap, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, foot powders/ creams and insoles, toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, floss, shampoo, sunscreen, lip balm, body lotion, wipes, shaving cream (NOT in cans) and razors, Q-tips, and eyedrops.
Food and drink (check expiration dates!): Beef jerky and pepperoni, hard candy (chocolate only in cold months) and gum, granola and protein bars, Pringles cans, microwave popcorn, mac & cheese bowls, microwave soups, ramen noodle packets, nuts, powdered drink mixes (including hot chocolate), coffee, tea, lemonade and fruit drinks.
Note…this is Girl Scout Cookie season, so if you buy a few boxes from a local Clifton Troop, you can add to your order and send them out as well – double the good deed!
Miscellaneous: White socks, frisbees, magazines, playing cards, crosswords, sudoku and word search puzzles, and cards and letters addressed to “Dear soldier or sailor.”
On behalf of Clifton Cares and our Military sons and daughters, thank you! Clifton Cares is a registered 501C3 non-profit, so any contributions are tax-deductible.