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Operation Turbo Says Thanks to Service Members

These care packages let deployed service members know they are appreciated.

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Who: Dyan Z. Smith, 56Where: Arlington, Va.What: Founder, Operation Turbo

What inspired you? In November 2010, I toured the destroyer USS Stout with my niece, a naval officer. I learned that many of her shipmates wouldn’t receive any mail while they were deployed. I struggled with that. Young people in the military sacrifice so much. They don’t make a lot of money, and they are away from family, friends and creature comforts. I needed to do something, so I e-mailed everyone I knew, shared my experience and asked them to write a note of gratitude to my niece’s shipmates.

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What was the response? I received many beautiful notes and, unexpectedly, a lot of sugary treats. My niece distributed everything. Word spread and I got other requests. I asked around to find out what people really need during deployment, and we began fulfilling requests at our website, operationturbo.org, with one box per person.

What does the box contain? About 50 items, worth about $50, in three cate­gories—protein, personal care and treats. Beef jerky is one of our most-requested items. In personal care, we vary the items for men and women. The contents have evolved. When we were told that hot sauce makes anything taste better, we added packets of it. Every box has a note of gratitude written by volunteers from all over the U.S. Each box costs about $10 to $11 to mail.

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How do you fund your work? Supporters donate supplies by ordering them from our wish list on Amazon. Or, at Amazon Smile, they can designate Operation Turbo as their charity of choice, and a small percentage of their purchases will come back to us. We are a nonprofit, and with tax-deductible donations of cash or gift cards, we can buy exactly what we need in bulk with a sales-tax exemption and pay for shipping, too. We sponsor fund-raisers, such as an annual golf tournament, a barbecue and a jewelry sale with a local retailer. In 2018, we raised $47,588 from all sources.

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How many boxes have you shipped? By year-end 2018, we’ll have shipped nearly 4,500 boxes to most branches of the military around the world.

Is this your full-time job? If you asked my husband, Jeff, he would tell you I’m on it 24/7 because I go to sleep and wake up thinking about it. It’s a commitment, not a job, and I don’t take a salary from it. I’m a semi-retired hairdresser.

Do you have help? Jeff weighs the boxes so we can fill out customs forms, and he takes care of the website, Amazon Smile and all the legal paperwork. I push the gas pedal, but he helps navigate. For my board of directors, I chose four people I felt would connect to the mission and bring their individual strengths to the table. Volunteers help us pack boxes.

Do you receive thank-you notes? Yes, and photos of happy recipients holding their boxes. When I hear “We haven’t been forgotten,” “We are appreciated” or “You have helped morale,” that’s my driving force.

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