Care packages as a calling: One mother's Memorial Day mission

Dorine Kenney started the Jacob's Light Foundation after her son was killed. The charity helps keep soldiers serving in harm's way stocked with supplies and warm wishes from home.

Emiliano Granado/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
‘It was my survival of my son’s death for me,’ says Dorine Kenney. ‘For a few years, all I could do is work and bump into walls. Then it became my life.’

Dorine Kenney was already sending care packages to her son’s buddies in Iraq after he told her some soldiers weren’t receiving anything at mail call. But when a roadside bomb killed Jacob months later in 2003, the tragedy took Ms. Kenney’s sense of duty to a new level.

The holistic minister and Long Island mom needed something to latch onto in the void left by the passing of her only child. She decided the one thing she could do was help make a difference for all the troops who weren’t fortunate enough to get care packages from home.

“It was my survival of my son’s death for me,” she says. “For a few years, all I could do is work and bump into walls. Then it became my life.”

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Her son, Jacob Fletcher, was an Army specialist who wanted to join the military early on, filling out enlistment cards he found in magazines. His mother remembers receiving phone calls from Army recruiters asking for “Private Jacob Fletcher,” but she told them to call back in 10 years. Her son was only 8.
After 9/11, Mr. Fletcher went to basic training in Georgia and then deployed to Iraq for the invasion in March 2003.

Later that year, Fletcher was riding on a bus in Samarra when a bomb detonated underneath the vehicle. Hours later, he and a friend died within four minutes of each other, Kenney says.

That tragedy now animates what Kenney does every day. She’s one of two full-time overseers of a care-package charity that she runs out of her apartment in Brentwood, N.Y.

Called Jacob’s Light Foundation, the charity “adopts” troops who either don’t receive care packages or are assigned to forward operating bases in Iraq or Afghanistan where items like warm clothing and medical supplies don’t always abound. Each month, the organization takes over the local American Legion hall, tapping into a network of about 300 volunteers to process the packages.

Kenney sends out about 9,000 pounds of supplies a month. Each time, her postal bill alone comes to more than $3,000.

Kenney says she does all the shopping herself, and you’d think Costco would be her second home. But not for Kenney, who prefers a local grocery to support a local company. Besides, she can get a better deal: If she sees a can of Chef Boyardee, she’ll talk to the store manager. “Let me get a thousand cans of that,” she’ll tell him.

The food is trucked to the Amer­i­can Legion, where volunteers pack hundreds of 13-by-13-by-13-inch boxes with toiletries, batteries, food, and letters from the public. The troops get them within a week or two.

Kenney responds to particular requests, especially for a unit in need. Recently, she did battle with the Pentagon after learning that one unit lacked warm sleeping bags, enough food, and medical supplies.

“When three requests come to me within 24 hours and I’m hearing the same thing, that’s pretty alarming,” she says. She immediately started working the phone, including getting the offices of top brass at the Pentagon.

Her calls spurred the Pentagon to look into the matter, says Capt. John Kirby, spokesman for Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We appreciate what she does for the troops,” Kirby says.

Jacob’s Light will continue to ship packages to troops as long as they are deployed overseas, says Kenney. “We don’t plan on stopping,” she says.

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