[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting.]
Columbia resident Tracy Della Vecchia has sent more than just her son, Cpl. Derrick Jensen, to Iraq. Every six weeks she sends 835 care packages to combat-deployed Marines overseas.
NBC Nightly News will feature Della Vecchia tonight in a story intended to show what it’s like to have a child deployed and what people are doing from home to help. Camera crews came to Columbia twice to film Della Vecchia and volunteers assembling care packages and participating in a roundtable discussion.
Jensen, who lives in Twentynine Palms, Calif., arrived home earlier this month after serving his third tour of duty in Iraq.
Della Vecchia founded www.marine moms.us in January 2003 as a way to share with other Marine families the hardships of having a loved one deployed. A year later, the name changed to www. marineparents.com, but its purpose remained the same. Della Vecchia and 40 volunteers from around the country maintain the site, providing the 150,000 visitors each week with updates on troop deployment and support groups, as well as answering families’ questions.
Della Vecchia and the Web site were also the subject of a cover story in the May 29 edition of The New York Times Magazine.
The most unusual aspect of the site is the message boards. Rather than a single generic message board, Della Vecchia divided it into forums for specific battalions so that the families of Marines stationed together can get to know one another.
“It’s the only site like it,” Della Vecchia said. “Parents connect so much on our message boards; that’s the really unique piece about it.”
Della Vecchia’s biggest undertaking is the care package project, which she created in memory of Lance Cpl. Nick Larson. Larson was killed in action in Fallujah in November 2004. When the project began in December 2004, she shipped about 100 packages a month. The project has grown exponentially.
Because it is against Department of Defense policy to give out Marines’ addresses, the care packages are shipped only to those whose families, friends or fellow Marines provide addresses. Della Vecchia started collecting from commanding officers the names of Marines who weren’t getting packages.
“A lot of times we’ll ship a package and get a letter back saying how much the Marine loved it, but his buddy hasn’t gotten any packages,” Della Vecchia said. “So we’ll ship one to him next time.”
The packages contain donated personal supplies such as razors, shaving cream, toothbrushes and toothpaste as well as T-shirts, shoelaces and some food items. The donations come from corporations, churches and individuals, and Della Vecchia uses cash donations to buy some supplies. Volunteers, including a Chicago Marine mom whose son died a year ago, convene and help assemble the packages. The cost of each shipment is around $6,000, most of which is covered by donations.
“Last time we fell $500 short, but my husband pitched in and donated the money,” Della Vecchia said. “If we had the money, we’d send out the care packages a lot more frequently.”
Della Vecchia has had plenty of support, and messages of thanks are posted on the Web site.
“We want to thank you so much for the package you sent to our son in Iraq,” wrote a Virginia couple, listed as James and Anne. “He said it is like Christmas when he gets a package over there. May God bless each and every heart and hand that prepared these care packages and those who work behind the scenes as well.”
Della Vecchia also receives hundreds of thank-yous from recipients of packages overseas.
“We send postcards in each package so they can let us know whether it got there in good condition,” Della Vecchia said. “The best is when we get a postcard back saying, ‘Make this my last package, I’m coming home.’”