Since 2010 Arlington's Suzi Quillen has been filling boxes of goodies to send out to Navy members on duty.
These days she runs the downtown Arlington store Perfectly Knotty and continues the project by collecting donations at her store.
She put together her most recent boxes on Aug. 15 but the project goes back many years.
“My friend’s husband was in Afghanistan and it just started as a joke. I was going to send him some stupid stuff from home, but he came home before I sent it,” said Quillen. “And I’ve just continued doing it since then."
The boxes are now usually sent out a couple times each year, she said. They contain food, books, games, playing cards and thank you notes from the community, among other items.
The boxes are not sent to individuals but to entire units.
“Sometimes I’m really regular in sending out the packages and sometimes it’s a while before I send another one. It just depends on how much stuff I’ve got available,” she said.
People from the community also come in to the store to help her assemble the packages.
“I love this because I was an ombudsman for my husband’s command back in the day and we did this all the time,” said Terri Strauss, who is involved with the local American Legion. “It was nice to know that she was doing this in town."
Quillen sometimes buys the items for the gift boxes herself and sometimes gets them donated.
She accepts a wide variety of items, although food has to be carefully considered.
“Food items I like to have factory packaged and not homemade,” she said.
“It can take six weeks before they get these. Sometimes these boxes get bashed and squished and all kinds of things,” she said.
Because the boxes are often sent to areas that are excessively warm that limits some of the food options as well. “We don’t do things that will melt — taffy, chocolate, gum,” said Quillen.
Condiment packages are often appreciated as a food item.
“A lot of these are things people get from their ‘to-go’ food at a restaurant,” she said.
Quillen also keeps a number of personally written items for the Navy members to open as part of the box.
“Cards and letters are always appreciated,” she said.
“When we have our American Legion Riders dinners, I take these cards around and have people sign them for her,” said Strauss.
Foam footballs, travel-size games, puzzle books and T-shirts are also frequently included as part of the boxes.
Quillen said she enjoys keeping the boxes going out each year.
“I was not able to serve in the military because of a medical condition but I’ve always been patriotic,” she said. “I love being able to have little ways for them to know they’re appreciated.”
Sometimes she gets e-mails of appreciation in response depending on how busy the unit is, she said.
This February she also was surprised to receive a wooden plaque from a military unit thanking her.
“It is made out of a local wood from where they are stationed,” she said.
For more info or to donate money to the project go to perfectlyknotty.com/sailorboxproject.