By Emily Banks Wooten
Dan and Bea Ellis and Suanne Wilson, representatives of F.A.I.T.H. Military Support Group (Families And Individuals Thanking Heroes), presented a program to the Rotary Club of Livingston Thursday, updating them on the progress the organization has made over the years.
“Suanne and Bill kind of got this started. Without Suanne and the rest of our gang, we couldn’t be here today,” Bea said.
“Back in 2006, our oldest son, who probably could have gone to school anywhere in the country on a football scholarship, joined the Marine Corps,” Dan said. “We were proud and sad at the same time. He applied to be a machine gunner in the infantry.
“We felt like we needed a group for parents and grandparents to show support for each other and then it morphed into something else. We began sending care packages and we have sent a little over 24,000 since the beginning,” Dan said. “F.A.I.T.H. has been good for us and I think it’s also been good for everyone else. I know LISD’s NNDDC sends 30-35 kids every month to help pack boxes.”
“F.A.I.T.H. is very privileged. We have a core group on our board of directors,” Bea said. “We buy in bulk. In the beginning, the end game was to get through a couple months. But we’re still going and haven’t stopped. We’ve never been short. We’ve never run out. It was close a few times in the early years but after a few years, we became a 501(c)3 and got a lot more organized. We have stock in a storage building and the trailer the Rotary Club helped us to get. God has provided every month.
“The names on our list come and go. We have new kids added. We have kids get out and go into the civilian world. I call them kids because they are. Most are under the age of 25. They go all over the world. We have kids giving up college scholarships to go serve their country,” Bea said. “We average 125-130 care packages a month, but many months, we send more than that. We spend 90-100 hours monthly shopping, sorting, putting stuff together.
“When COVID came, we had to go outside. We’ve only missed two months – one was when Hurricane Ike blew through (2008) and the other was the first month of COVID (2020). Of 206 months, there have been 204 months of packages going out,” Bea said.
“Every package that goes out is shared with six to eight people and every package that is sent has some kind of tie to Polk County,” Bea said. “Budget wise – the first we sent overseas in 2006 for about $7 (per care package), today it costs $18.45 (per care package) for up to 70 pounds. We stuff them to the brim. Initially, we sent candy, magazines, just junk. Now, we send several forms of protein, oatmeal, liquid drink mixes, chocolate milk, Yoo-hoo in there. The more stuff we get in there, the more stuff they get.
“Since January (of this year), we have sent 785 overseas and 200 in the states and have spent $40,000. The price of everything has gone up,” Bea said. “At Christmas, you get your regular food box, but you also get at least one Christmas box. At Christmas, everybody gets at least three to four extra boxes to share.
“How do we make our money? Our biggest fundraiser is done annually in conjunction with Scott and Toni Hughes and Polk County Cares and that money is divided three ways among three different groups. That’s our biggest fundraiser. Our other big fundraiser is sponsoring care packages at Christmas time. Rotary Club has been outstanding through the years. We could not make it without y’all,” Bea said, adding, “F.A.I.T.H. really hasn’t changed in our mission or how we do things. We’ve gotten smarter, more efficient.”
Dan agreed. “There is zero administrative cost. Everything is donated. There are absolutely no funds that go into the administration of this organization.”
F.A.I.T.H. Military Support Group and its volunteers meet the second Thursday of each month at 5:30 p.m. in the parking lot of Livingston Physical Therapy located at 305 W. Mill St. in Livingston. Everyone is welcome as they are always looking for more volunteers.
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