For service members in Afghanistan, a small round peppermint or Jolly Rancher hard candy can sometimes be the difference between life and death.
On dangerous patrols, they often trade the sweets for information from Afghan children on hidden land mines, said Burt Sappenfield, the creator of Santa for Soldiers.
“When you drive a vehicle into an Afghan village, the children run up to you and put their hand out,” he said, adding that many service members there keep small bags of hard candy and novelty items in their patrol vehicles to hand out. “When you give them pens and paper, they love it. Hard candy is like gold to them.”
Sappenfield’s on a mission to ensure soldiers have a ready supply of candy and other goods that can make their lives there more comfortable and safe. He started the drive after meeting a soldier who was set to be deployed to Afghanistan. He asked the soldier to e-mail him any time she needed anything. It wasn’t long before she wrote back, saying the soldiers are sleeping in the dirt.
The packages will also ensure every soldier receives a Christmas gift. Many will spend the holidays without family, but some don’t receive packages, Sappenfield said.
“After Christmas, there’s a letdown. This stuff is going to make sure everybody gets something,” he said.
Sappenfield created a similar program in Savannah, Ga., during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. He flew to Saudi Arabia to distribute the goods, which filled a 40-foot shipping container.
This is the first year for the Santa for Soldiers program. Donations are accepted at Brigham Woods apartment complex on Skinner Mill Road. Brigham Woods has many residents who are military members, said Sara Bancroft Holmes, the assistant manager at the complex. Office managers help sort and package the items.
“For something so small that we took for granted, it’s just a way to help someone that does so much for us,” she said. “The more people that donate, the more soldiers we can help.”