From Malibu, With Care

For 10 years, Cindy Linke (above) has overseen annual packing parties at the Point Dume Clubhouse to send care packages to U.S. troops overseas. Last week’s party yielded a record 3,000 packages, but with hostilities winding down, Linke says this year’s event was likely the last. 

It has been 10 years since Malibu resident Cindy Linke organized her first annual “Troop Packing Party” to send care packages to American troops on active duty abroad. The parties coincided with the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003, and Linke says there’s a simple reason why she and others kept up their work as American forces remained engaged in conflicts overseas.

“I wanted to express my gratitude,” she said.

Linke is the Malibu coordinator for Operation Interdependence, a national nonprofit that provides means to support troops on the front lines, as well as their families. Just as continuous warfare takes its toll on members of the military, volunteers such as Linke make financial and time sacrifices to support their cause.

With America disengaging from Iraq and Afghanistan, Linke announced that last Tuesday’s packing party would be the last large-scale event under her direction.

“Well, I’ve done it for 10 years, and they’re supposed to be starting to come home from Afghanistan soon, so it seemed like a good time to stop,” she said.

If that’s the case, the Malibu chapter of Operation Interdependence went out with a bang.  More than 100 volunteers and around a dozen local businesses, organizations, clubs and schools helped to make this year’s Troop Packing Party the most successful ever hosted in Malibu. A record 3,000 care packages were assembled and mailed.

The seeds of this year’s success were sewn 10 years ago, when Linke’s idea first took root.

Fearing that troops would feel “neglected” when out on active duty abroad, Linke went to her friends and church community at Malibu’s Christian Science Church to organize a drive to send them care packages. But what began as a small effort between friends turned into a Malibu tradition involving a lot of coordination.

On Tuesday last week, the Point Dume Clubhouse hived with noise and activity. Tables of volunteers wrote personal letters to service members, while others filled bags with goodies, then weighed them and sorted them into boxes. None of this happens by itself, particularly the letters.

“Just about all of Malibu helps us,” said Linke, describing the letters she’s gotten from the local elementary schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, scout troops and others.

Unlike other nonprofit organizations, that send packages to troops but may copy the same letter over and over, Linke insists on a unique note for each bag. This means the letter writing demands preparation far ahead of time. She begins collecting letters months before the event is scheduled, from all sorts of groups in the Malibu community.

That care, however, does not go unremarked.

Matthew Ramirez, a volunteer last week, is a Naval Facilities Engineer who has received several packages while stationed abroad.

“When I’m overseas, we sometimes receive packages like this—it boosts morale when you miss home,” he said.

Although troops enjoy swapping the contents of their packages to get their favorite snacks and toiletries, “it’s nice when people share their personal stories,” Ramirez said, which is why the notes are his favorite part.

Sometimes, the notes are reciprocated.

A few years ago, Cindy Linke recalls, she received a moving thank-you note from the recipient of a care package.

“He was covering [the on-duty shift] for a friend of his who was on Skype because his wife was having a baby,” she said.

Tired and dirty after serving two consecutive duty shifts, the soldier explained that he returned to find the care package from Malibu sitting in his car. Inside were a note, a snack, and best of all, a fresh pair of socks.

“He had been 72 hours in the same pair of socks!” Linke recalled.

The event has received support from many organizations over the years. It is co-hosted with the Malibu-Bel Air Republican Women Federated, and receives assistance from the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Malibu Navy League and the Adamson family. For years, the party has received grant money from the Malibu City Council. In 2013 and 2014, the Malibu Senior Center sent supplies and volunteers to the event.

While Linke says she does not plan to organize packing events of this size and scope, smaller letter-writing parties are already being planned for this spring in honor of Memorial Day.

“I want to thank the City of Malibu for their generous support of the troops,” she wrote in an email. “Malibu has proven it is truly a city with a heart.”