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    Safeway Launches 'Operation Care Packages' to Iraq

    SEATTLE - Safeway, Inc.'s Seattle Division will send care packages every month from local communities to soldiers stationed in Iraq. Beginning this September, one Safeway store each in the division's operating areas of Washington, Montana, and Alaska will serve as a collection point for community residents to donate items for a care package to be mailed to the Middle Eastern country.

    SEATTLE - Safeway, Inc.'s Seattle Division will send care packages every month from local communities to soldiers stationed in Iraq. Beginning this September, one Safeway store each in the division's operating areas of Washington, Montana, and Alaska will serve as a collection point for community residents to donate items for a care package to be mailed to the Middle Eastern country.

    Families with loved ones serving in Iraq are encouraged to submit an entry to Safeway. The collection site will change based on the entries received. The family of the selected entry will be responsible for recruiting at least four volunteers to collect donated items on the designated Saturday at their store, pack the donated merchandise in boxes, and deliver the addressed packages to the agreed-on mailing location. Safeway will provide flyers to be handed out to customers with a suggested list of product donations, send press releases to local newspapers about the care package collections, and pay for postage to mail the packages to soldiers in Iraq.

    According to Cherie Myers, the division's director of public and government affairs, the events abroad strike very close to home. The division once had as many as nine employees deployed overseas (the number is now five), Myers recounted to Progressive Grocer. Myers' boss, Greg Sparks, president of Safeway's Seattle Division, began sending periodic letters to the families of those deployed, enclosing a Safeway gift card and offering encouragement during an anxious and uncertain time.

    The immediate inspiration for the current project, however, was when Myers learned that the eldest son of a Kirkland, Wash. woman had been killed in Iraq, and that the bereaved mother wished to send a care package to her son's fellow soldiers, since, as Myers explained, "they were the last people he had laid eyes on." Myers offered to have Safeway take care of the gathering and shipping of the contents. The result was an outpouring of "48 crammed boxes and $2,000 in cash" from concerned community members. "People want to help," she noted, adding that students from the slain soldier's high school volunteered their time. After that, Myers started 'Operation Care Packages.' "It's the right thing to do," she said, noting that being involved in the program gave her and others "a really good feeling." Myers is currently working with the Operation Support Our Troops initiative, which is also based in Washington state.

    When asked whether the program could spread to other Safeway divisions, Myers replied, "A lot of times [Safeway executives] see ideas in different places and adopt them, so it could happen."

    The first collection date will be Saturday, Sept. 16. Winners will be informed at least two weeks beforehand.

    -- Bridget Goldschmidt

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