Jonette Kessack, Mother Christmas to Soldiers Everywhere

IT ALMOST FEELS LIKE CHRISTMAS!” was one serviceman’s exclamation heard someplace in Afghanistan where a pile of freshly opened postal boxes lay, filled with products from Cape Coral area donors. The U.S. military service personnel were thrilled to receive these much-needed supplies that came from our community’s generous desire to help them as they defend our country and its freedom.

Jonette Kessack, Mother Christmas to Soldiers Everywhere

Holidays 4 Heroes’ is a program to assist our soldiers in outlying detachments, mostly in Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa and the Syrian border. It was started eleven years ago by Jonette Kessack, the owner of Sip & Send Wine and Gift Shoppe. Their mission statement is: “To show the love, support, and appreciation of a grateful nation by providing necessities and comfort items to those serving our country all over the world through the continued support and generosity of businesses, individuals, and volunteers.”

Jonette Kessack, Mother Christmas to Soldiers Everywhere

Cape Coral residents have supplied these products to our defenders via this program that has grown from 42 care boxes shipped before Christmas in 2007 to over 1,000 boxes shipped in 2016. It has evolved into an ongoing, year-round process, rather than one reserved for the holidays, to help our service personnel abroad. To date, Sip & Send has sent out 3,900 boxes. The shop is gearing up for a sizable shipment push for the 2017 Christmas season that must be sent out by mid-November. Husband Peter Kessack, co-owner of Cape Coral Brewery, helps each year alongside other volunteers to assist with this major endeavor near the holidays.

Jonette Kessack, Mother Christmas to Soldiers Everywhere

The idea behind Holidays 4 Heroes was conceived over ten years ago when a young mother with three small children visited the Sip & Send Wine and Gift Shoppe. She entered the store/post office with an armful of boxes to send overseas for her husband, who was serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq. The customer, Diane, explained to Jonette that these supplies are difficult for deployed soldiers to get in remote areas. The need is often met by the soldier’s family, who may already be having financial difficulties. After their conversation, the problem of soldiers lacking supplies while overseas weighed heavily on Jonette’s mind. The next day, she phoned Diane and asked how she could help. Diane referred Jonette to the unit’s chaplain, who furnished a list of the most needed products. That first year of the program, Sip & Send proudly shipped out 46 boxes to military men and women serving abroad.

In 2016, a new project began that helped local military families in need by giving them funds to allow them to have a Merry Christmas. Two local military families were aided by this new program.

Today, military personnel from our area who are deployed to these countries are identified by store patrons on a regular basis to be the recipients of these care boxes. The boxes are shipped to designated soldiers who hand them out to fellow service personnel. What many people don’t realize is that when troops are deployed far from their bases, it is difficult to get personal care products and comfort items. Likewise, our U.S. military is closing bases in some of these countries, so the exchanges are no longer stocked with these goods.

Jonette Kessack, Mother Christmas to Soldiers Everywhere

Sip & Send, located at 2135 Santa Barbara Blvd, makes it easy for both residents and small business to contribute to this worthy cause. The store has been in business in the area for 13 years. Patrons can offer to pay $17.35 to cover the cost of mailing a box, which contains a variety of personal supplies and snacks worth $32, or they can pay $50 to cover the full box, shipped.

Jonette Kessack, Mother Christmas to Soldiers Everywhere

A number of local businesses contribute such things as office space and printing each year to Sip & Send to help process service members’ shipments. Some manufacturers donate a portion of their products for the gift boxes, as well. During the school year, school children make cards to insert in the boxes. During the summer months, Cape Coral Special Populations adult participants make up the greeting notes. Donors may also choose to fill their own box with supplies, looking for special items at stores of their choice. In this case, donors leave the box open for inspection and enclose a note of appreciation before dropping it off at Sip & Send.

Jonette Kessack, Mother Christmas to Soldiers Everywhere

To make it easier for residents to donate whatever they can, Sip & Send is awaiting approval of its application for 501(c)(3) status from the U.S. Federal Government. Approval is expected soon to allow monetary contributions, which are tax-deductible, to be given directly on their website www.holidays4heroes.com.

In the last several years, small businesses have begun to participate by sponsoring a variety of group gift box shipments, allowing them to ship from 18 to 297 boxes at the sponsorship level they choose. Various “star” classifications indicate the number of cartons the company wishes to send out. The “Five Star General” indicates that the company has contributed $5,000, which covers the cost of mailing 297 containers.

Jonette Kessack, Mother Christmas to Soldiers Everywhere

At that level of participation, their company name and logo is put in the center of the display banner which is brought to their place of business for a week and then prominently posted behind the counter for patrons to see while they await mailing service. A number of tickets are provided to almost all the participant companies for other Holiday 4 Heroes events during the year. At each of these events, the participating company is thanked for its sponsorship. Sponsorship information sheets with more detail are available for pickup at the store.

There are three special Holiday 4 Heroes events each year—with a fourth one now in development. Becoming more popular each year, there are now two Designer Purse Bingo nights scheduled. The winner of each bingo game receives a designer purse from such notables as Michael Kors, Coach, and Kate Spade. Prizes are also given for winning raffle tickets. Check the website for dates of all upcoming events.

Jonette Kessack, Mother Christmas to Soldiers Everywhere

Their newest event, Heroes and Hounds, is scheduled for January 6th at Sun Splash. Sip & Send is proud to be partnering with the Cape Coral Police Department to provide a new city event that will include a K-9 unit exposition and competition. Also involved with this endeavor are the Cape Coral Animal Shelter, and the Calendar Girls, who dance to provide money for service dogs and their training to veterans. This family fun day will include a chili cook-off, best pie and pie eating contest, and a homebrew contest. Kids games and activities will also be offered.

Do you know a local service member who is currently deployed? Feel free to contact Jonette if you have any questions or if you can recommend service members who would benefit from the Holidays 4 Heroes program.

Sip & Send is easy to spot on the east side of Santa Barbara in the Sun Hawk Plaza by looking for the well-lit marquis of the familiar red, white and blue United States post office logo on the strip mall’s center pillar.

Wouldn’t it be great to know the exclamation “It was almost like Christmas!” was heard in many remote, sandbagged bunkers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and the Syrian border near the holidays this year? Donations from our generous Cape Coral residents continue to help make that happen!

Jonette Kessack, Mother Christmas to Soldiers Everywhere

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Jonette Kessack, Mother Christmas to Soldiers Everywhere

Some examples of items most needed for the gift boxes are:

shampoos, sunscreen, eye drops, foot powder, washcloths, dental floss, mouthwash, zip lock bags, lip balm, boot laces (tan), journal books, pens, books, lotion, playing cards, Advil, body wash, tuna (fresh pouches), slim jims, trail mix, protein bars, instant coffee/tea, cookies, powdered drinks, chocolate bars, energy drinks, drops, pop tarts, candy, mints, gum, peanut butter