WINTER HAVEN — Jamie Brown’s son was serving in Afghanistan, and he and his mom had a good laugh when he told her about the bath he rather awkwardly gave himself.
“My son was over in Afghanistan and he told me it was quite comical when they stood around and tried this for the first time,” Brown said. “It’s not a whole lot, but it’s enough to put over their skin. They can kind of soak their feet a little bit. It’s just a unique way for them to get some fresh water.”
The program Brown is referring to is called Bath in a Box – and it’s literally just that. Soldiers from Central Florida who are serving in the Middle East are now being sent a regular shipping box, plus garbage bags that can hold water, and a gallon of water in containers.
The soldiers stand in the box, pour the water over themselves, and then are able to wash their feet some more in the boxes covered by those plastic bags.
“It’s just a regular box that you would ship stuff over in, like a priority mailbox,” Brown said. “It’s big enough for someone to fit in, and to put the water over themselves. It’s not that they’re sitting in a bath. They stand in the box and the water pools in the bottom, and they can soak their feet for a while.”
Brown is the coordinator of Marine Families of Polk County, a non-profit agency based in Winter Haven that aims to send goods and supplies to soldiers from Central Florida who are now serving in the Middle East, and to provide emotional support and comfort for their local families.
Bath in a Box is a special program the non-profit group launched recently to help soldiers living in a hot desert climate that they’re not used to.
“These soldiers are often in remote places where they are a lot farther away from the outposts,” Brown said. “They deal with a lot of dust and sand, and it’s a very fine dust and it sticks to the skin, and it’s very coarse and it’s very rough on your skin, and to just give them something fresh where it’s not just a baby wipe is very helpful. It’s also a novelty item. We have had a number of troops who have written us back and called it ‘fun.’ It is something they need, and it’s also a diversion.”
Marine Families was formed three years ago. Brown, who lives in Winter Haven, said it was started by the parents of young men and women who were entering the Marine Corp getting together while their kids were at boot camp.
“We’re all a bunch of Marine parents – parents of soldiers in the U.S. Marines,” she said. “They have to go through much more rigorous training, and it’s also much more taxing on their families. Those first 13 weeks of boot camp, you’re cut off from your family because there are no phone calls. There is only mail, and even that is sparse. It is a mind set of sorts. The parents are completely cut off from their child. They still don’t have any kind of communication. It’s a family support group that we started.”
These families began meeting up to help one another, and it grew from there, she added.
“We had a number of families that have loved ones going over at the same time,” Brown said. “There were a number of families that had loved ones going over who were from Polk County, and we started meeting up. It’s actually spawned further now. We don’t just focus on Marines but on all branches of the military. But we do try to concentrate on the Central Florida area. They are our home folks. We try to send things like a hometown newspaper that the service member would recognize from being from their home.”
That’s also how they came up with the idea of sending the supplies needed for Bath in a Box.
“They kind of get inside the bag, but they get into a box where the bag is lining the box,” she said. “We also send them products that you would equate to a bath, like a rubber ducky, a wash cloth, a fresh towel, and a fabric softener to make it smell like home. We put all sorts of goodies in there. Of course, they may want to drink the water instead because water is precious out there, but they are able to use the water, and we send them instructions on how to do this.”
The soldiers have clearly enjoyed the experience, she added.
“Anything to take their mind off what they’re doing, even for five or 10 minutes, that’s our whole objective,” she said. “It’s one more thing that’s different from just sending over snacks and sanitary items. It’s something to give them a smile.”
Over the Veteran’s Day weekend, Marine Families formed a partnership with Fantasy of Flight during the tourist attraction in Polk City’s Fifth Annual Roar n’ Soar event. It included a special Support Our Troops program to collect supplies and send comforts and care packages to our troops this holiday season. For $20, guests could sponsor a Bath in a Box, and a free gift was provided to each donor attending Roar n’ Soar.
“We’re glad we can partner and give back,” said Jennifer Montague, the director of events, sales and marketing at Fantasy of Flight. “It was part of the reason we do this in November.”
“We are very much oriented in the community, trying to participate in many events,” Brown said. “We’ve got a number of different Christmas parades we’ll be a part of, including the ones in Lakeland, Bartow and Winter Haven.”
To learn more, log on to www.Marinefamilies863.org or call 863-287-2032. The group also has a Facebook page.
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