Caring for Camo gives 1,000 reasons to care

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Erik Honore, left, Mary Smirnis, middle, and Reanna Zuniga, right, are the chief organizers of Caring For Camo, a student group that sends care packages to U.S. troops. The group will host an event this Thursday to pack boxes that will reach the troops by Christmas.
Photo Credit: Jenan Taha | Daily Texan Staff

While their families opened Christmas presents at home, a deployed troop took a picture celebrating abroad wearing the Santa hats they had just received. When another troop felt hopeless, they boosted their morale by looking at the drawing sent to them by a little girl who wanted to thank them for keeping her safe. 

On Nov. 17 from 6-8 p.m. at Scholz Garden, Caring for Camo will host their fourth annual “1,000 Reasons to Care” event. Volunteers will come together with the purpose of making 1,000 troops smile by sending them a slice of home through care packages.

“The people that we are sending these packages to are in very high stress environments,” said graduate business student Erik Honore, Caring for Camo’s Finance Director. “Obviously being deployed is not easy for the troops or their families, so just being able to provide something from home to ease their minds and boost morale is why what we do is important.”

UT alumni Jacob Guss, Alan Dukor and Andy Smith founded Caring for Camo in December 2012 in order to support currently deployed troops by sending care packages and letters to them through packing parties. This Thursday, Caring for Camo’s event will be their largest packing party of the year.

“These packages reach them right before Christmas — that is one of the most difficult times [to be] away from your family,” said journalism and advertising senior Reanna Zuniga, Marketing Director for Caring for Camo. “We want to make sure that they know we are thinking about them and appreciate all that they are doing, making the sacrifice of being away from their family over the holidays.”

Social work sophomore Amelia Fuentes said she feels proud, honored and grateful when she sees volunteers coming together in support of the troops and their sacrifices. Her father recently retired from serving in the military after undergoing several reconstructive surgeries for facial injuries suffered in Iraq.

“I feel like it is just a great way to give back and be a part of something that helps others,” Fuentes said. “[During the surgeries], I remember feeling kind of hopeless because there is nothing I could do except be there and support him, but with joining this group and with the packing party that is coming up I feel like it is a great way to commemorate everything that happened.”

Caring for Camo will send 250 boxes to groups of four or more members of the military. Caring for Camo’s president Mary Smirnis, government and international relations and global studies senior, said they try to send care packages to soldiers who don’t receive as much support to remind them people are thinking of them too.

“It is nice to share experiences with people and to share this unifying experience,” Zuniga said. “You are sending love too, you are not just sending items, you are sending appreciation [and] all of these other values.”

When participants arrive at the event, they will receive a box that includes the name and a few facts about the soldier they are supporting. Additionally, they will receive a list of which items belong in the box according to the needs of the military member. The most common elements will include energy shots, protein shakes, soap, magazines and snacks like beef jerky. 

Aside from reaching 1,000 troops, Smirnis said Caring for Camo’s larger goal is to engage the campus and Austin community and act as a reminder of unification.

“A lot of it is morale and bringing people together to remind ourselves that there are people fighting for our freedoms right now and that it comes at a cost,” Smirnis said.