Starting the Season With a Win: Military Supporters Assemble 10,000 USO Care Packages at NFL Kickoff Experience in Tampa

By Sandi Gohn

A lot of effort goes into delivering a USO Care Package.

From receiving a unit’s request form and ordering necessary supplies; to stuffing the pouches and shipping them far and wide via FedEx or MPX/MilPost; to physically handing out the packs to troops on the ground – there are dozens of logistic procedures that must run smoothly for these small reminders of home to find their way into the hands of hardworking service members, just when they need them most.

USO staff members Jonathan Matthews and Jennifer Troxell fill boxes with USO Care Packages. | Photo credit USO

In 2020 alone, USO staff and supporters delivered over 200,000 USO Care Packages to members of the U.S. Armed Forces serving all around the world – an impressive feat considering that each individual care package was hand-stuffed.

One of the ways USO Care Packages are typically assembled is through care package stuffing events. At these exciting community occasions, USO staff members, volunteers, corporate partners and, on some occasions, the general public, come together to stuff hundreds to thousands of USO Care Packages.

Photo credit USO

The USO tent at the NFL Kickoff Experience in Tampa, Florida.

Stuffing events are an excellent way for military supporters to donate their time and express their gratitude to the U.S. Armed Forces – all while helping the USO save valuable donor dollars on labor costs associated with care package assembly. It’s a win-win for military supporters, the USO and deserving service members receiving these small – and often unexpected – reminders of home. It’s also a great way military supporters can give more than thanks to our service members and their families with the USO.

That’s why longtime USO partner, the NFL, stepped up to host a special USO Care Package stuffing event at the NFL Kickoff Experience in Tampa in September 2021.

Service members who visited the USO tent hold USO Care Packages. | Photo credit USO

Assembling Over 10,000 USO Care Packages to Send Service Members a Bit of Home

With the holiday giving season just around the corner, this USO Care Package stuffing event provided the thousands of football fans attending the NFL Kickoff Experience the perfect opportunity to roll up their sleeves, build a USO Care Package (or two!) and tangibly demonstrate their support of the Armed Forces.

Photo credit USO

NFL fans assemble USO Care Packages.

“It was nice [to participate in the stuffing event and] actually be a part of a [charity] organization to give back,” said Ty Carpenter, an Army veteran and event participant.

Carpenter, who served for seven years and deployed three times, reflected on the ways the USO and NFL support helped boost his morale while serving overseas.

“I was stationed at Bagram, Afghanistan, and I was there for the building and also the grand opening of the Pat Tillman USO. It was a fantastic experience. … [The center] almost looked like old ski lodge inside [and] it had video games and telephones to call loved ones back home.”

Photo credit USO

Inside the USO tent at the NFL Kickoff Experience in Tampa, Florida.

In addition to the support provided by fans like Carpenter at the NFL Kickoff Experience, local associates from USO partner Lowe’s also volunteered the day before and stuffed over 1,600 care packages. Between the two different opportunities, USO supporters in Tampa stuffed over 10,000 care packages for service members.

A signed USO-NFL banner, which will be sent to service members around the world. | Photo credit USO

I joined the Marine Corps back in January of 1990. In my time I was in a position where I did get some [care] packs from the USO. It was fantastic just to get a taste of home or something in the mail that you weren’t expecting,” said Darrell Brown, a Lowe’s Store Manager in the Tampa area. “[Stuffing USO Care Packages] definitely brought back some memories today.”

“Seeing the other members of Lowe’s that are veterans, and us reminiscing a little bit [and] talking about our military service, and also just the pride in seeing everybody … working for such a great cause. It [was] really exciting to be able to help with that.”

Photo credit USO

USO staff member Jonathan Matthews assembles boxes to be filled with USO Care Packages.

The USO Care Packages that participants helped build in Tampa – in this case, the snack pack variety – will be included in larger USO Holidays Care Packages, which are delivered as festive drawstring bags full of holiday goodies to service members around the world. USO Holidays is a seasonal campaign that – through the gratitude and generosity of military supporters – brings the joy of the holidays to service members wherever they are in the world.

Photo credit USO

USO team members help stuff care packages.

“Service members and their families sacrifice so much to protect our country, so we are proud to help bring them together through our passion for football and the delivery of USO Holidays care packages,” said Anna Isaacson, NFL senior vice president of social responsibility.

This care package stuffing event is just one of the many ways the NFL supports service members and their families through the USO. For over 50 years, the USO has worked with the NFL to honor, empower and connect service members and military families. From participating in countless USO-NFL entertainment tours to hosting events for the miltiary commutniy and so much more, the USO and the NFL are a winning team.

Service members pose with Wanda Swift-Wilson and her son, Reginald. | Photo credit USO

Even though they won’t get to physically witness service members receive and open these care packages in the coming weeks, many of those who participated in the stuffing event felt it was the very least they could do to thank those who bravely step up to serve, and be a Force Behind the Forces®.

“I hope [when service members open these care packages that] they feel proud of knowing that they’re loved and they’re cared for,” said Wanda Swift-Wilson, an event participant and USO Central Florida volunteer.

“We appreciate everything that they do, 24/7.”

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As the COVID-19 outbreak is evolving, the USO has pivoted resources across the entire global enterprise in an approach that helps care for military members and their families.

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