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Under a slew of military flags, banners and pictures of troops, volunteers at Cal Expo collected care package donations Friday. They were members of the Defenders of Freedom a local nonprofit organization that assists servicemembers and their families.
Toiletries, games and DVD's were among the most requested items by troops serving around the country and overseas. The items were being assembled into care packages for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Both my sons serve in the Army," said Maria Elena Szlachciuk, founder of Defenders of Freedom. "These items, combined with letters and cards, can lift a soldier's morale."
The California chapter was founded in 2007 after a similar chapter started in Dallas in 2004. Szlachiuk runs the foundation with the help of her family and other volunteers.
Carol Bostick's son is a sergeant in the Marine Corps. She has seen him off twice, as he boarded a plane bound for Iraq.
"What we do here makes an impact," said Bostick. "Letters and care packages are a huge encouragement for the troops."
The foundation's nonpolitical tasks don't stop at care packages. Szlachciuk and her group welcome returning troops at Sacramento International Airport, spend time with wounded soldiers and educate the public on about the military.
"The American people need to be reminded that troops are still overseas," she said.
After watching an early morning newscast on about the Defenders of Freedom, Mike Petrillo loaded 150 T-shirts from a car show into his truck and drove from Vacaville.
"It turned out to be a nice day for the drive and the shirts can go to soldiers overseas. Perfect day," he said.
The Defenders of Freedom accept cash and donations. For information and to learn about requests from troops, visit their website.