It started as a single stay-at-home mom's desire to send care packages to her son and his friends in the Marine Corps.
In just four years, Military Missions has grown into a bustling non-profit that this season will send 1,000 care packages to deployed soldiers in all areas of the military stationed throughout the globe.
Even founder Beth Pennington is amazed at how quickly Military Missions has taken off.
"It's amazing, really. I just threw out a number for how many packages we'd try to send this year," Pennington said. "But it's all coming together. It's just another sign that God's going to provide what we need. When you do little random acts of kindness for somebody, you can make the world a better place."
A former teacher and then a home-school mom, Pennington has made Military Missions her full-time volunteer job, as her younger two sons are now in high school. She describes herself as "very shy with no training in the business world" and these days constantly finds herself "completely out of her comfort zone" as she talks to large groups about her work or campaigns to raise donated items for the packages or the $11,000 needed to mail the boxes overseas.
Still, she feels certain she's found the ministry God's called her to do.
"It's been probably the biggest blessing in my life. It's such a reward to know that you helped someone feel loved or important," she said. "There's such a huge need. I get such beautiful thank-you letters" from the soldiers. "You can just tell the impact that it has on them. I think it really encourages them."
Military Missions is a year-round operation. Anyone can go to the agency's Web site to enter the name of a deployed service person. Then Military Missions will send that solider a care package monthly throughout his or her deployment.
But at Christmastime, through the non-profit's Operation S.E.N.D. (Send Encouragement to our Nation's Deployed) Christmas campaign, the goal is to send 1,000 care packages, each stuffed with three or four small, wrapped Christmas gifts — including books, travel games and a Bible — as well as snacks such as beef jerky and nuts, and at least 10 cards and letters.
That means some 10,000 cards and letters will be gathered, packaged and sent by Pennington and her band of roughly 30 regular volunteers this month.
She welcomes contributions of cards from individuals, school classes or other groups. They can be as simple or elaborate as you'd like. Any age can do it.
"The peanuts and other things are great," Pennington said. "But what really touches them is that somebody took five minutes to write them a card or letter to say thanks for what they're doing."
In addition to their monthly care package mailings, Military Missions also sponsors a bi-monthly support group for family members of deployed soldiers.
"It's so wonderful to be able to take part in something to help our military men and women know that we support them, care about them and recognize the importance of what they're doing," said Lynn Wilkerson, an active Military Missions volunteer whose son is in the Kentucky National Guard.
Pennington encourages all families this holiday season — even ones who don't have military members stationed away from home — to put out an extra place setting during Christmas dinner to symbolize the sacrifice so many Americans are making as they are stationed overseas.
"One of the most important things we can do is just put on that mind-set where we don't forget about them when we're opening our presents and enjoying our lives here," she said.
For more information about volunteering with Military Missions, which utilizes volunteers to package and ship care packages year-round, or for details about how to make a donation or provide cards for Operation S.E.N.D. Christmas, see www.militarymissionsonline.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.