Chairman of the board and former FSO recipient Christopher McCarthy receiving packages in Afghanistan.
Photo by Forgotten Soldier Outreach
Lynelle Chauncey Zelnar was a property manager in Palm Beach County when a co-worker’s son called from Iraq. The young man was telling his mom how depressed he was, so his mom asked Zelner to pray for him.
“I wanted to do more than pray for her son, so I started sending him care packages,” Zelner says. “The next thing I know, names started coming in from local National Guard members, and I started sending them care packages.”
Local and national media picked up on the story, and names poured in of soldiers in need of support and supplies from home.
That was 20 years ago. Today, that little bit of home is in a warehouse in Lake Worth, and the organization is named Forgotten Soldiers Outreach. When the organization started, Americans were looking for ways to support the troops overseas, and many are still doing this service today.
Zelnar is the fearless and unrelenting leader who orchestrates the organization. She finds volunteers and products for the “We Care” packages sent to those who have not seen their loved ones in a long time.
Each monthly package includes a comic book, letters of encouragement from students and schools, toiletries, snack food, protein food, socks, baby wipes, and more.
Soldiers receiving packages from Forgotten Soldier Outreach.
One sponsor for 17 years is Florida Power & Light and its Veterans at NextEra Energy. Its volunteers spent the morning of July 9 packing over 100 “We Care” packages for service members overseas in the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard. The event, called Christmas in July, is when volunteers from FPL and VetNEXT pack up Girl Scout cookies, a comic book, a personal letter of encouragement, nonperishable food items and more.
Christopher McCarthy, the chairman of the board for Forgotten Soldiers Outreach, was a recipient when he served in Afghanistan with the Marines in 2010. “We were taking back the city of Marjah from the Taliban. The fighting continued for three weeks, and after losing Marines and watching our buddies get blown away (barely clinging to life), we received packages from Forgotten Soldiers Outreach,” McCarthy says. “It was the first time I saw smiles on my Marines’ faces."
“All the things we endured vanished, and we enjoyed the feeling of home that each care package gave us. It was one of the best experiences in my life and one I will never forget.” Each box costs $30, raised in a myriad of ways. Some people hold parties at the organization’s Lake Worth space. Instead of bringing gifts, the guests donate to Forgotten Soldiers Outreach.
One woman in her 80s has had birthday parties at Forgotten Soldiers Outreach for years. She invites her friends, and they donate money and pack boxes.
Businesses and schools are encouraged to have events at the warehouse. “It’s good for business team building, and you can bring your own food and customize the care packages.”
Organizations in the community can collect the items for the care packages and write the letters of encouragement. Forgotten Soldiers Outreach also holds monthly sponsored packing events.
Zelnar has devoted her life to supporting troops overseas and giving others a chance to do the same.
“Many of our soldiers are in a remote area with no access to running water,” she says. “We try to send them what they might need. Everything is packed with lots of love too. We have sent over 480,000 packages to the military since we started.”
To get involved, call 561-369-2933, or visit www.forgottensoldiers.org/volunteer, where you can write letters to the troops. Forgotten Soldiers Outreach’s Amazon wish list can be accessed at forgottensoldiers.org/ways-to-help/package-items-list.