Imagine, for nine months to a year, being thousands of miles from your closest friend or family member, in a place you have never been before.
Then, imagine that place not only being a desert, but also a warzone, a barren environment where stores, restaurants and parks are just about as rare as a snowstorm.
Now imagine that without you knowing, someone from back home, who you absolutely know nothing about, sent you a box full of the things you most need and crave: soap, candy, toys, socks, a book… How would that make you feel?
That question is one only a handful of lucky men and women serving overseas in the armed forces can answer, and all largely thanks to one person, Andy Marshall.
Over the last nine months or so, Marshall, the owner of the coffee shop in Bronxville, has sent 18 boxes of this kind to soldiers overseas. The boxes contain everything from toothpaste, toothbrushes, playing cards, frisbees and band-aids, to socks, candy, soccer balls, shampoo, lotion, coffee, floss, travel mugs and chocolate. And then some.
Marshall says he first got the idea to send the boxes after meeting a psychologist from Fort Drum Military Reservation at a wedding, who told him he could provide the names and “addresses” of some soldiers to send care packages to. Not really knowing if the project would go anywhere, Marshall put up a sign up in his coffee shop telling customers he was collecting items to send the troops serving overseas. He also posted a list of items he was hoping to include in the care packages, encouraging customers to cross off any goods they brought in so that others could know what was missing to complete a particular box. As it turns out, completing boxes was never going to be an issue.
“Next thing I know people are coming in with bags of stuff,” Marshall said. “It’s a lot of fun. You’d be surprised how generous people are. You give them something where they can contribute and they’ll be all over it.”
Marshall says he’s had people give him hand-woven neck warmers to put in the boxes, and regularly has customers come into his shop to see what items are missing to complete the next package, before going out directly after to buy them. He also leaves out large cards on his counters for customers to sign and write short messages on, which he sends out with the care packages. Some cards end up with hundreds of signatures on them, Marshal says, and even a few lipstick kisses.
Marshall has no connection to the soldiers he sends packages too. He only knows their names, and what base they are stationed at. The last two boxes to come out of Slave to the Grind have gone to marines. The 16 packages before that have been sent to army regulars, mostly in “green zones.”
Marshall’s latest box will be his first “platoon” box, which he hopes will be shared with dozens of soldiers. Marshall says he is getting so many donated items that he has had to use bigger boxes and temporarily take the items list down inside his shop. At the rate that donations are coming in, Marshall can’t send out enough boxes, and the back of his coffee shop is already lined with bottles of shampoo, bags of candy, holiday decorations and shaving equipment. As a solution to this rather good problem to have, and because he says its getting “harder and harder” to find the names of soldiers to send boxes to, Marshall hopes to start sending care packages to the Wounded Warriors Project in New York.
A few months back, Marshall received a thank you letter from one of the lucky recipients of his boxes, something he said came as a very nice surprise.
“That was nice,” said Marshall, who himself briefly served in the Marine Corps in the past. “It was basically just saying thank you. I didn’t expect any of them to write back. That’s great if they have the time to do that, but I would much rather they keep themselves safe.”
One thing Marshall does wish could happen, however, although it is highly unlikely, is to witness the delivery of one of his care packages.
“I’ve always wanted to be there when one of these guys got one of these boxes, just to see their face,” he said. “I know they must have loved it... Think about it. There’s no CVS anywhere around. You don’t leave your fort-operating base and walk down the trail to 7-Eleven to pick up a Slurpee. There’s nothing.”
For that exact reason, Marshall says it is as urgent as ever to show our support for those serving overseas. Although he admits that the events of 9/11 left him “physically sick for months,” Marshall stresses that the care package project is not really about the events of those days, but more about the men and women serving today, and our duty to make sure they are not forgotten.
“It’s really important that we stay in touch with these guys,” Marshall said. “They need to know that we’re still thinking of them. I think it’s really easy for people in America to forget that a lot of our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters are over there fighting for what the President has declared a good cause. And whether you believe in it or not, they’re there, and they’re doing what they are being told to do. It’s really important to support that, because we all need love.”
Perhaps Marshall’s dedication and passion for this cause is most evident by the fact that what he says he wants most of all, is to be able to stop sending his boxes.
“I just want these guys to come home,” he said. “So long as they are there, we can’t forget them. I can’t wait until I no longer have to do this. Not because I mind doing it, but because it’ll mean everybody is back.”
is located at 58 Pondfield Road in the heart of Bronxville. Stop by during business hours to contribute to the next care package that will go out to troops overseas.