Donating to troops overseas doesn't have to involve sending your hard-earned dollars. Organizations all over the country (and the Internet) are tapping into the wealth of used items and cost-free resources that can be sent overseas or recycled to benefit U.S. military members.
Non-financial donations, ranging from heartfelt letters to electric guitars and used cars, are an easy way for you to buoy soldiers' spirits — without straining your budget.
Want to express your gratitude and brighten a soldier's day? Many charitable web sites make letter-writing easy by offering guidelines, mailing assistance, and even online versions that don't require you to mail it yourself.
A Million Thanks
Calling out to individuals, schools, businesses, and churches, A Million Thanks urges everyone to send letters, cards, and emails to members of the military, both past and present. The web site includes drop-off locations and suggestions for holiday postmark deadlines.
Letters to Soldiers
Letters to Soldiers makes letter-writing a breeze with their online form. All you have to do is enter your name, address, and message into the appropriate fields, and the organization will print out the resulting letter and send it to soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.
Marine Parents Care Package Project
To send letters to marines, in particular, visit the Marine Parents Care Package Project, a web page of letter-writing and mailing guidelines, thank-you notes from marines, and sample cards from kids.
You can take the soldier out of the band, but you can't take the music out of the soldier. Certain charitable organizations have made it their mission to reconnect deployed soldiers with the musical instruments they had to leave behind.
Guitars 4 Troops
Guitars 4 Troops accepts donations of used guitars, but cautions that they should be in good enough shape to withstand shipment first to the Guitars 4 Troops headquarters, and secondly, overseas. The site offers suggestions for safe packaging of guitars and estimates of shipping costs.
Deployed soldiers often face massive amounts of downtime. Help keep their minds active, and remind them of home, by donating your old books. Bonus: You also benefit from uncluttering your shelves and closets!
Since 1999, Operation Paperback has collected 1.7 million gently used paperbacks from donors and sent them to American troops overseas.
Books for Troops
Don't have enough books, but still want to donate? Books for Troops is a free service that sends a box of hand-selected books care of Got Books, Inc., a book collection and reuse company.
Most cell phone companies offer customers deeply discounted prices on new phones every two years or so, which means most of us have perfectly functional used cell phones piling up around the house. A number of organizations will accept these gently used phones, recycle them, and use the proceeds to send communication tools to troops.
Cell Phones for Soldiers
Cell Phones for Soldiers offers donors prepaid shipping labels, reducing the cost of donating an old phone to zero. You are also able to download easy instructions for erasing all of your phone's personal data before sending.
For each used phone sent to Operation Gratitude, GRC Wireless Recycling contributes up to $30, which Operation Gratitude then uses to create care packages for troops. The site offers prepaid shipping labels for sending one to nine phones, as well as instructions and prepaid shipping labels for creating a "Donation Kit" for 10 or more phones.
Undergarments and adaptive clothing for wounded soldiers are two main ways to help out in the clothing category. Most organizations only accept new and unused garments, so save gently used clothing for your next yard sale.
Sew Much Comfort
Sew Much Comfort creates and sends clothing adapted with velcro closures to wounded service members, who are often unable to wear anything but drafty, ill-fitting hospital gowns. You can contribute to Sew Much Comfort by volunteering as a seamstress, by donating money or new garments, or by becoming a corporate partner.
Medical staff in the field often have to cut off clothing to treat wounded soldiers. To address this problem, Operation Undergarment, a grassroots clothing drive, collects new and unused underwear, t-shirts, socks, slippers, sweat pants and pajamas to be issued at field hospitals.
Soldiers cooped up on bases and in veteran's hospitals are often in great need of entertainment and comfort. And how many of us have shelves and cabinets filled with DVDs we rarely watch? Donate your new and used DVDs and electronics to a company that dispenses them to the troops.
DVDs to the Troops
DVDs to the Troops seeks to streamline the donation process by outlining three simple steps for giving, including the option to print out a mailing label. The site also offers easy instructions for starting a DVD collection drive in your town.
Tech for Troops
This service provides veterans and the children of veterans with free refurbished computers. They also provide IT workforce training.
What's one donation that truly comes from the heart? Blood! Healthy adults with 30 minutes of spare time can help out the troops by donating a little bit of themselves to save lives.
The Armed Services Blood Program
With more than 20 donation centers in the United States and abroad, the ASBP operates recurrent blood drives, and sends the donations to cancer patients, injured soldiers, and military members and their families. The site includes a map of donation centers as well as guidelines for donating.
Most of us take for granted a good cup of coffee in the morning, but military bases aren't always a source for gourmet java. Give the gift of rich caffeination with these coffee donation programs.
Boca Java Troop Coffee
In partnership with the USO, Boca Java matches each donated bag of coffee and ships both overseas to the troops.
Cup of Joe for a Joe
The Green Beans Coffee Company operates coffee cafes at military bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Qatar, Djibouti, and Africa. Through the company's web site, you can donate anywhere from one to 30 cups of coffee to soldiers for $2 a pop.
Various organizations encourage the donation of large-ticket items like cars, RVs, farming equipment, and boats. Proceeds from the resale of these vehicles is generally used for the shipment of care packages and basic necessities for troops.
To fund the assembly and shipment of their troop care packages, Operation Gratitude picks up your donated used cars, trucks, boats, and RVs (whether or not they're in working condition) at no charge and resells them. The site also links to vehicle-valuation web sites and provides a customer service phone number for questions, including tax-deduction advice.
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