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Local News

Joliet woman heads Military Mama Network

Boxes packed by members of the Military Mama Network sit Tuesday on the floor at the home of Geriann Weisbrook during a packing session. Weisbrook started the group about a year ago after being inspired while sending packages to her son while he was in basic training.
Boxes packed by members of the Military Mama Network sit Tuesday on the floor at the home of Geriann Weisbrook during a packing session. Weisbrook started the group about a year ago after being inspired while sending packages to her son while he was in basic training.

JOLIET – It's not ammunition in the caissons that Geriann Wiesbrook sends rolling along.

Her boxes typically have deodorant, shampoo, snacks, magazines and baby wipes. Sometimes there are special requests like a six-pack of root beer or a bag of spicy Cheetos.

But only one item is "standard issue" – a handwritten letter of support for the soldier receiving the care package.

"Whatever's in the box, we hear more from the soldiers about that [letter] than anything else and how they appreciate it," Wiesbrook said. "That's what kills me – that they do feel forgotten."

Since June, Wiesbrook has led the Military Mama Network – volunteers who have sent cards, basic supplies and "a little bit of love" to military personnel who are injured, deployed in combat zones, are in remote areas or are in training. More than 700 soldiers have received packages so far.

Geriann's first care package went to her brother during Desert Storm and included a cassette made with her daughter's toy tape recorder.

"It was the first time we weren't together for the holidays. I couldn't bear the thought of him eating Thanksgiving out of a can," she said.

More than 20 years later, Geriann sent boxes for her son, Joseph Wiesbrook, when he joined the National Guard before transferring into West Point.

"But when he graduated basic training, I was like, now what do I do?" she recalled. Wiesbrook learned from an online organization that many deployed soldiers were in areas without running water where baby wipes, which aren't issued, were about the only bathing option.

For her birthday party last year, Wiesbrook asked her guests to bring supplies instead of gifts. She ended up with enough to make 50 boxes.

Through Facebook, the Military Mama Network has received requests from soldiers and supporters. Besides financial donations, "complete strangers have dropped off supplies at my house," Wiesbrook said.

"Mamas," which welcomes everyone interested, including men, has started assembling packages across the country for soldiers deployed in the Middle East and South Korea.

"It's now become an international effort because a [network volunteer] became friends with a Canadian who knew soldiers deployed with coalition forces," Wiesbrook said.

Three military hospital units also receive cards regularly from the network, and the moms send flowers to those whose children have been killed in action.

A "night owl," Wiesbrook typically packs her 12-inch by 12-inch boxes when most people are sleeping. The assembly of 10 to 15 boxes takes several hours each time.

"You'd be amazed what you can fit in a box. I've developed 'ninja packing skills' and can get about two Walmart shopping bags in one," she beamed.

Wiesbrook usually strips things from their individual packaging to maximize the available product space in the mailing box. Her recent challenges included fitting as many Girl Scout cookies as she could in a box for one soldier and a small coffeemaker in another.

"Good razors and deodorant can never be sent enough," she tells groups and individuals who want to donate products. Feminine hygiene products are greatly appreciated by deployed women who can't run out to a corner store.

While most packages contain essentials, one mom told Wiesbrook her son would be celebrating his 21st birthday on the frontlines. He was sent a "Party in a Box" with sweets, balloons and decks of playing cards.

The network has included play-by-play descriptions and pictures from football games for a sports fan, Wiesbrook said.

Wiesbrook uses candies and cough drops as packing material to fill spaces. Each box is filled with about $35 worth of items and costs $15 to ship.

"I eventually figured out how to have the post office pick up the boxes," she said. "I didn't know they would and spent hours at the post office when I first started doing this."

While some things have been streamlined, Wiesbrook still wants a commitment from network members to reach out with a personal connection.

"I want someone who's lonely ... who is sacrificing for us ... to see someone has taken the time to handwrite something for them, to see that they matter," she said.

Wiesbrook plans to continue supporting the military whether those who receive the packages remain strangers or not.

"I haven't met one yet, though I've talked to a few online," she said.

The Military Mama Network has a Facebook page and is currently setting up a separate website. Wiesbrook can be reached at MilitaryMamaNetwork@gmail.com

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