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Connecting Neighbors Over Seas

FYI Network expands its services to helping soldiers internationally.

The holidays are long gone, and yet the FYI Network in Great Falls is still very much in the giving spirit.

The group, which disperses information, requests for advice and items for sale throughout the Great Falls community via a complex email system, has taken up the activity of sending care packages to troops serving overseas.

"As long as our troops are over there, we’ll keep sending packages,” said Sharon Rainey, president of the FYI Network.

Over 100 packages have been sent so far, most of them being shipped in December to serve as morale boosters for the troops who couldn’t be with their families for the holidays, and the group is currently working on putting together care packages for Valentines Day.

"We got all of our supplies out right after Christmas. Then the tsunami hit, so we didn’t have any donations until about two weeks ago,” Rainey said. In the past two weeks, however, about 30 boxes with various donated goods, ranging from packages of Easy Mac to toothbrushes to Beanie Babies to hand-held video games and batteries have been collected.

"Volunteers come in to help pack up donations,” said Karen Bush, chief operating officer of FYI. "Some of the volunteers finally asked if we could use their work and not just their donations, so they come in and help us. Other people have donated cash to help defray the cost of postage,” she said, adding that Home Equity Builders, which shares office space with FYI and also Creative Cuisine, has donated the money to mail the packages.

One member’s daughter, who’s in eighth grade, collected so many donations the trunk of Rainey’s car was filled with goods as part of a community service project.

"EVEN IF THE WAR ends tomorrow, we’ll find something else to send packages to,” Bush said. "The outreach has been so strong, there needs to be an ongoing effort.

All recipients of the care packages are in some way connected to the FYI Network, Rainey said. "There’s a member of the FYI Network who has a brother in the Canadian Army, and he’s stationed next to an orphanage in Afghanistan that has 800 girls in it,” she said. The first shipment of stuffed animals, 10 boxes stuffed almost to overflowing, were sent to him, who personally delivered the toys to the girls.

"Hopefully we’ll get pictures back from that,” Rainey said.

The boxes used to send the care packages are brought in by a FYI member who made it his personal mission to supply empty boxes she said. Each box must be carefully wrapped in brown paper, and every corner must be taped to prevent the boxes from being opened before delivery. The boxes must all be addressed to a specific person, although many soldiers will share the contents of the box with others in their respective squadrons, Rainey said.

"I’m here because I support our troops. I cannot even talk about it,” said Sarah Glennon, another volunteer who spent Thursday morning assembling packages. "What Sharon’s doing is remarkable. If I can do some small part to make this happen, I’m happy to do it,” she said.

During the Christmas season, she would add a few items to her cart while grocery or present shopping for the troops. "I had more fun shopping for them,î she said.

Donations of time, goods, stuffed animals and other items are welcome, Rainey said, and can be delivered to the FYI Network’s office, 752 Walker Road, Suite C, in the Village Center of Great Falls. Homemade baked goods, breakable items, liquids other than soaps or shampoos, religious or sexually explicit items cannot be sent overseas, she advised, and cannot be included in the packages.