By Annette Hinkle
Christian Haerter is a founder of Jordan’s Initiative, the Sag Harbor-based organization which provides assistance and support to military personnel and their families. The group was founded in memory of Haerter’s son, Marine LCpl Jordan Haerter, who was killed at the age of 19 by a suicide bomber while serving in Ramadi, Iraq.
Jordan’s Initiative is currently leading a care-package drive for troops overseas. You do this regularly, but you’ve received a special request for this batch. Tell me about that.
It came from Lt. Dan Runzheimer, Jordan’ platoon leader in Iraq. We’ve remained in contact and he has a good friend deploying to Afghanistan and has requested if we can to support them. They have 200 guys in their unit.
You don’t always get requests like this, so how do you decide where to send the packages on other occasions?
We have to find a unit where we can send them to a person who has to accept all those packages. We can’t individually label packages – so we try to get the chaplain or commanding officer to accept them and address them all to him. He becomes responsible for distributing them. We package individually for soldiers — we even package for male and female so they can just hand them out that way.
The items in the packages are donated by the community and you put out a list of suggestions for those who want to help. What are some of the more unusual items that have made the list in the past?
There were things like flea collars – I think that was for Iraq – they’d put them on their ankles because they were getting bit by insects. Tree air fresheners is another one to make where they’re living more palatable. Also hot sauces — they love to doctor up what their eating.
The important thing is that they are things easily packed. You’re camping, you’re not carrying around a big tub of Tide. So we stress small containers and things that are individually packaged. They’re all 19 and 20 years old – so whatever your kids like is what they’ll like — candies and snacks easily pocketed and practical items like toiletries.
What about shipping?
We go through the regular mail and we’re able to get feedback from the unit and know they got there. We’ll ask, ‘How many did you get?’ There’s always attrition and we get a lot back for unknown reasons — sometimes customs rejects them and sometimes the packages take a beating. By the time we ship them out and get them back, they’re pulverized,
So you take 200 boxes down to the Sag Harbor post office for mailing?
We go right down to the post office and deliver them. We get the employees there a nice Panera breakfast – there are literally palettes of boxes they’re dealing with. With postal rates just going up, it now costs $15 a box to ship them — and that’s a discounted rate.
That’s a lot of money — how do you pay for it?
Fundraisers throughout the year help pay for it.
Packing day is a special event — tell me about the community effort that goes into assembling the packages.
All those who give to Sag Harbor are automatically involved. We do the packaging at the Sag Harbor ambulance barn. The fire department and the ambulance corps are involved, the junior firefighters help, the boy and girl scouts, some of the grade schoolers write cards and letters. We’ve gotten good enough where it takes about three hours working in an assembly line. People actually enjoy it.
And I hear you’re looking to get more students involved.
It’s good for them to see what we’re doing. The younger kids might not put in toothpaste, a brush and comb and might completely fill a box with jolly ranchers and a whoopee cushion. Sometimes a box makes a couple laps before it’s correct. And every last millimeter of the box has to be filled. We don’t want to ship air, so we pack them as tight as possible. It’s a lot of fun.
When will this current drive wrap up and ship out?
We’ll send the boxes out towards the end of April.
Where can people donate items?
We put collection boxes out – generally in banks and churches or other places where people congregate. We also take monetary donations. People can also call 725-2489 and leave a message to donate.
What do you most need now?
Snack items are great – they use a lot of power bars and it seems we never have enough. And it doesn’t always have to be serious stuff – I mentioned whoopee cushions before — I got 50 … there’s got to be a laugh somewhere.