By Jessica Dean
PHILADELPHIA (CBS)--“It was a complete fluke,” Trish Shallenberger said. Five years ago, she was on a flight to Alabama, sitting next to her was a 19-year-old Army soldier named Mark. He was on his way to Fort Dix, then Iraq.
As they talked, she noticed his hands, “and his hands were terrible. They had these big welts on them.”
She found out it’s common for soldiers because their hands are so exposed. Trish had no idea soldiers needed hand cream.
“And I said ‘I will send enough for your whole unit.’ And then I said, ‘How many is in your unit?’ And he said ‘177.’ And I thought, ‘Oh my, what have I committed to!'”
That was the beginning of what Trish calls A Soldier’s Hands. She and an army of volunteers wrap donated hand creams, lip balms and candy. Everything goes in a colorful bag and is tied with a bow. Every gift also comes with a letter. She gets hundreds written by school children.
“Dear soldiers, thank you for fighting for our country,” one read. Another read, “Thank you for ‘sipoting’ us.” Trish chuckled at the misspelling: “I love it. It’s probably a first grader.”
For some troops, these cards are the only mail they will receive.
Trish estimates she has sent at least 1400 care packages to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It costs tens of thousands of dollars, raised a little at a time. She says it’s worth it to honor the troops.
“They realize that they’re not forgotten,” Trish said.
And she’s gained a lifelong friend. When Mark returned from his tour of duty, Trish’s family was there, joining not only hands, but hearts.
“This is my calling, and this is what I’m here to do,” Trish said.
It costs $700 just to ship packages overseas. If you would like to donate or help, contact A Soldier’s Hands here.