Full Circle Home Helps Troops Say Thanks to Loved Ones in Style
The Patriot Health Alliance recently donated 100 sample packs of Patriot Power Greens and 100 sample packs of Patriot Power Protein to Full Circle Home for one of its fundraising events. We caught up with Executive Director Vickie Durfee recently to discuss her organization's primary focus.
Vickie Durfee's son, Gil, was serving with the U.S. Marines in Iraq when it all started.
He asked his mother to send Christmas gifts from him to his then-fiancé, Ashley. Vickie happily took care of that request in 2006. And then an interesting question popped into her mind.
What mother, wife or fiancé wouldn't want a Christmas or Mother's Day gift from their deployed son, daughter or husband? Especially if it included a hand-written note of love from him or her?
That seed eventually grew into Full Circle Home. But Vickie had no idea at the time how much this initiative would flourish and how long it would bloom.
Turning the tables
There are a number of worthy organizations that arrange to have items sent from the U.S. to troops deployed around the world.
They provide a wonderful service showing troops that family members and friends back home love them and are thinking about them. Full Circle Home turns the tables by allowing troops to say thanks to their loved ones back home who are supporting them.
These troops are already serving us with their dedication and sacrifice. But this program provides them with an opportunity to show their appreciation to those who have their backs.
And thanks to the fundraising efforts of Vickie, Lisa Miller and others, all it costs those troops is a little bit of their time.
29,000 troops and counting
Full Circle Home is a not-for-profit organization that connects deployed service members with their loved ones across the country and on bases around the world.
Based in Rochester, New York, Vickie is executive director. Lisa is responsible for coordinating gifts for injured service men and women at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to give to the women who are supporting them during their healing process.
Since 2007, Full Circle Home has helped over 29,000 troops send their holiday gifts and love notes to their heroes at home. The simple act of giving a gift with a hand-written note can bridge the gap between U.S. troops and those who support them.
These gift packages allow them to express their gratitude and recognize the sacrifices made by those at home. They're also a daily reminder of the love of their service member and the appreciation of sponsors across the country.
This connection provides encouragement and support for those at home and overseas, because the whole family is affected by a deployment.
And often the troops share with Vickie how deserving their loved ones are, while the heroes at home express their gratitude for the gifts and notes they receive from their heroes serving around the world.
Wrapping events bring in volunteers
The Christmas packages assembled by Vickie, Lisa and their volunteers include 12 curated gifts each for the 12 days of Christmas. There are usually five gifts in the Mother's Day package.
These gifts include items such as special hand creams, body lotion, candles, body wash, a box of cards by local artists, beautiful ink pens, lip balm, toffee, spa socks, a custom bracelet and others.
"We had over 1,000 volunteers pre-COVID," Vickie said. "We actually had to turn volunteers away. They're responsible for wrapping and preparing gifts. It takes all hands on deck. We'll wrap close to 15,000 gifts at Christmas and use almost four miles of wide holiday ribbon plus an additional 4 miles of curing ribbon!
"People in different counties around Rochester come to help us during our wrapping events. Employees at local companies – and sometimes their customers and clients – will join us. We'll also go to companies in other areas and states who want to host a Sponsored Wrapping Event!
"A company in Colorado, Margot Elena, donates gifts for two of our 12 days of Christmas. We actually fly out there to wrap the gifts with them and then they ship them back to us."
Personal gifts… made in America
"We want all of the gifts to be as personal as possible," Vickie continued. "They need to reflect the way we look at women… beautiful, high quality and making a difference.
"Every time these gifts are used by the recipients, they're a reminder of the love of their service member."
Vendors who supply some of the gifts will often add a personal note as well, expressing sentiments to the recipients such as, "We're behind you" or "We support you."
"We try to get everything made in America, as much as possible," Vickie added.
Keep on keeping on
After Vickie's son, Gil, returned home safely from Iraq in 2008, it would have been perfectly natural for her to end the program. She had already done so much for so many.
"But once I read those heartfelt letters from mothers and wives and others, there was no way I could be selfish and stop just because I knew my son was home safe," she said. "I knew I had to keep going."
And 14 years later, she and her group of 1,000 volunteers are still going.
"I figure, if I don't do this, who will? For the 1,150 deployed and the 100 more injured servicemen and women at Walter Reed, I've made that commitment to them. And it's only right because just look at the commitment they've made to us."
'Payback we get is tenfold'
"The first Christmas that we did this, we somehow got everything together and in the mail," said Vickie, whose father was a fighter pilot in World War II.
"And soon after I received a call from a woman who said, 'I just got my package and I can't tell you how much it means to me.' Well, that made all the time and all the hard work worthwhile.
"In reality, I've got it easy compared to those serving and those waiting anxiously at home. And if this is something we can do to make a difference, I feel like we should. It's our responsibility.
"This is the most expensive hobby we could possibly have, but the payback we get is tenfold. And the letters are not just from the recipients of the gifts. We also get letters back from the troops about the impact this program has on them.
"A Marine in Korea actually called me, concerned about his mom, and said he felt this gift made a big difference for her."
A worthwhile goal
"If anyone had told me how much this program would grow, I would have probably told them that they had the wrong woman," Vickie said.
"My background is special education. I taught ballet for many years. I'm not naturally a program director or fundraiser.
"But I learned that there are a million reasons why you can't do something. But you only need one good reason to do it.
"These are real people serving around the world. They are people's sons, daughters, husbands, wives, cousins… Connecting them across long distances is a worthwhile goal."