In the wake of the death of her son, Army Cpl. Jason Pautsch, Teri Johnson searched for a way to turn her grief into something positive for other members of the military stationed overseas.
What inspired her was all she had left of her son —the memories and a handcrafted walnut chest she received from the Army that was packed with her son’s possessions. It sits near the dining table in her Moline home.
Jason Pautsch was killed April 10, 2009, while serving in Mosul, Iraq,
The inspiration she received from the walnut chest has been channeled into the Jason’s Box project.
Her goal has been to get service men and women to tell her what they need or miss — candy, personal items, etc. — so she can fulfill their wishes.
To get the word out, she came up with a card that she was able to get into the hands of some soldiers and chaplains to get the ball rolling. On the front of the card are the words, “Thank You.” Inside is a photo of her son, who at age 20 was one of five U.S. soldiers killed in an attack by a suicide truck bomber. And there is a personal note from Johnson.
“On behalf of Jason’s Box, we would like to send a care package of special things you might miss at home,” the note says in part. On the back is a place where the recipient makes a list.
When Johnson receives a card, she and other volunteers collect the items listed, pack them in a box that can hold up to 20 pounds. It then is mailed to the service person.
In each box, Johnson puts five of the “thank you” cards to be passed out to other service men and women so they can make requests. Whether the service person mails it back is up to them. Once she gets the card, she jumps into action.
“I wanted to be unique,” Johnson said.
There are many people and agencies packing boxes of things to send to the service people overseas, she said.
“I wanted to know what they wanted,” Johnson said. “I wondered how we found out what they really need.”
Her first box was sent in January.
The 273rd box sat on her dining room table on Wednesday.
Packed into it were the items the soldier requested: coffee, sugar packets, licorice in single packets, AA and AAA batteries.
“If it’s not full, I will make it full,” she said of the boxes she sends.
She understands it is often hard for someone trained to be self-sufficient to ask for anything, but everyone needs to know they are loved and appreciated, she said.
Looking over the cards she has received, there are requests for Crunch ‘n Munch caramel-coated popcorn, Neutrogena shampoo and conditioner, baby wipes and French vanilla coffee.
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One card had a single request on it, and it made her eyes tear up. “The request is for a pillow,” she said. “That was the lightest box I’ve sent.”
Johnson and a few volunteers spend every weekend shopping to fill the next box. Each box costs $50-$60 to fill and ship.
Johnson, who works for Trinity College of Nursing and Health Sciences in Rock Island, now has the help of the Trinity Health Foundation. The mission has expanded beyond getting care packages overseas to improving the health and well-being of the military men and women. Long-range goals include linking or providing some active-duty and returning veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other disorders or traumatic brain injury with services through the Robert Young Center for Community Mental Health.
“Trinity’s mission is to improve the health of the people and communities we serve, but that doesn’t always mean those people are right next door,” said Trinity Health Foundation president Berlinda Tyler-Jamison. “Sometimes healing and compassion know no geographic boundaries.”