Thanks to a generous donor, the homegrown charity Just Our Soldiers’ Helpers is expanding its footprint in our community to bring comfort and caring to men and women serving overseas
It was 2010 when Kathy Hewitt said a tearful goodbye to her nephew, Josh Kinsel. Josh was being deployed by the Army to Combat Outpost Wilderness in the remote Khost Province, high in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Before Josh left, Kathy promised to send him a care package every month. It was a promise that would have greater significance than she realized at the time.
During Josh’s time in Afghanistan, Kathy learned about the harsh conditions under which Josh, an Army captain, and his frontline troops lived.
“It took his deployment to open my eyes,” says Kathy. “There was no PX and no way to get personal hygiene supplies except the occasional convoys that would pass through.”
So, every month, as promised, packages filled with hygiene products and nonperishable food – packages of love, as Kathy calls them – made it to Josh in his remote location on the other side of the world.
In 2011, when Josh returned home to stay, he had one very important request for his aunt: Don’t forget the people still over there. Kathy promised she wouldn’t.
With the help and support of her husband Dennis, Kathy made their home the storage and staging site for packages of love for not just one special soldier, but for many. Friends of the Hewitts and people who knew Josh were eager to pitch in.
In their first year of sending care packages overseas, the Hewitts had taken on personal debt nearing $16,000. It had become apparent to Kathy that to continue their work and increase their capacity to reach as many service members as possible, she’d need to turn her grassroots, home-based operation into an official nonprofit organization. Dubbing it Just Our Soldiers’ Helpers (JOSH) to honor her nephew, Kathy was more motivated than ever to keep her promise to the namesake, himself.
Since its inception almost 10 years ago, JOSH has continued to send high-quality care packages to service members deployed in remote and often very dangerous locations. Each package, just like the ones Kathy originally sent to Josh, is intended to send a message of love and appreciation to each service member for his or her sacrifices for their country.
As she expected, being a nonprofit organization helped Kathy grow her efforts. With the Hewitt home busting at the seams, she started renting out storage units to hold the growing number of supplies. While this helped the Hewitts on the home front, the units, which cost $550 per month, still did not provide room to assemble care packages, so their home remained the central staging site.
“In May, one of our volunteers asked if we’d be interested in having a storefront site in Longwood for JOSH,” says Kathy. “Her boss was a big military supporter, and he offered to rent the space to us for little more than what we were paying for the storage units.”
The generous lease agreement made in June this year was a game-changer, allowing the organization to grow from 350 square feet of storage-unit space to 1,430 square feet of storefront space.
“The new site gives us a place to anchor and call home,” says Scott Ariotti, a business development and marketing professional who serves on JOSH’s board of directors. “Having a physical presence will make it easier to brand our operation and involve more donors and volunteers who value our mission.”
Despite obstacles posed by COVID-19 in recent months, Kathy, with help from volunteers and friends like Scott and his wife Marla, have worked diligently to prepare the new site, painting its interior and stocking it with products made possible through fundraisers and donors.
“Kathy and Dennis did the hygiene boxes while Marla and I did food boxes,” says Scott. “In the past, we’ve been fortunate to have other organizations like Disabled American Veterans Chapter 30 and the Sanford Moose Lodge, both in Sanford, help us. For now, we’re all working safely from our homes.”
The same love and recognition that Kathy put into each care package to her nephew is now realized by thousands of service members deployed overseas, ensuring other heroes like Josh will not be forgotten.
Promise made. Promise kept.
Love, By the Numbers
Last year, 28,000 pounds of hygiene and food products were received by more than 2,500 deployed service members overseas.
In early July, Just Our Soldiers’ Heroes, a national morale-boosting organization for U.S. service members, announced that Kathy Hewitt was one of three national finalists in the Sparkling Ice Cheers to Heroes contest. Kathy was selected as a finalist for the national grand prize among a field of 100 charitable leaders in the third round of judging, alone. Though she didn’t earn the top prize, Kathy’s nomination is proof that Just Our Soldiers’ Helpers is among the nation’s finest organizations dedicated to the support of our men and women in uniform.
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