MANALAPAN, NJ – Ever wonder what happens to all those items that are dropped in the Little Bit of Home bin at the Headquarters or Howell libraries?

Thanks to the volunteer efforts of a few people, they go all over the world, giving men and women in the military just a little bit of home.

       Meet Ken Springer, a former Marine officer who served for six years during the Vietnam era and is now a member of the Cpl Philip A. Reynolds detachment of the Marine Corps League of Freehold. Ken has been in charge of the boxes at both the Howell branch of the Monmouth County Library and the Headquarters Library for the seven years since the program was started. He also is active in tending the boxes in Toms River as well. Businesses and organizations welcoming the bins now stretch beyond Monmouth and Ocean counties, into counties both north and south, as well as Staten and Long islands in New York.

     Springer said the Headquarters Library and Howell are wonderful sites, not only for the generosity of the people who visit both county facilities, but also because the libraries invite them to leave the boxes year round, not just on a once or twice a year special drive.

   “We selected these two sites because of the high volume of people who visit, “Springer said.

Since the two libraries began the year round program about five years ago, “library patrons have come to know about the program and have been very active and generous in donating needful supplies and provisions. This ongoing partnership with Howell and Manalapan gives us the opportunity to provide much needed “Care Packages” that we send every week to our troops stationed around the world, “the volunteer explained.

   Springer said the organization behind the collections not only has bins in the libraries, but in churches, Rehab and Senior Centers, schools, churches, and Scout meeting places, as well. Organized 16 years ago, A.A.M.S., American Recreational Military Services, is a non-profit American Recreational Military Services, whose aim is to provide comfort and relief items to military members (and their families) deployed around the world or who have become sick, injured, or wounded from service. Items are forwarded to troops in “Care Packages” and distributed throughout their military unit. Each package carries with it a message of hope and love that shows the military that America supports its troops and wants to bring them ‘a little bit of home.’

   Springer and other volunteers make weekly visits to the facilities where their bins are located, and bring them to their distribution center at the Toms River Armory. There they are sorted, repackaged, addressed with all the necessary custom forms, and delivered to the post office to be sent to all branches of the military, ships at sea, combat hospitals, medical and veterans facilities, embassies and individual service members.

     Each of the boxes contains a variety of items, and it’s not unusual to have no two exactly alike. Boxes may contain anything from bug spray, air fresheners, power drinks and small powder drink m and small boxes of breakfast cereals, to hand sanitizers, body wash, sun flower seeds and nuts, or Trail Mix, coffee and hot chocolate. “The troops always crave Beef Jerky, Slim Jims, iTunes Gift Cards and Video Games,” spring said, adding, As well as socks, and laundry pods!

Since the cost of sending the boxes generally runs between $15 and $25 a box, monetary donations are also appreciated, Springer said, and a shortage of it has resulted in a reduction of the number of boxes that go out each week. At their highest, A.R.M.S volunteers were sending 75 packages a military members; today, it averages about 25 boxes weekly, or a 66% reduction in the amount of “Home” the soldiers and sailors are receiving.

“The Monmouth County Library has been outstanding in supporting our cause,” Springer said, “and we are grateful for their ongoing support of everything we are trying to do. Library users are generous, we know, since we always have filled bins in Manalapan and Howell. This sends a strong message to our men and women in service that know they are in our hearts and minds and that we pray for their safe and healthy return.” The men and women who receive our packages of tell us that receiving “them at mail call is reminiscent of opening presents around the holidays. That’s how we know they bring a little bit of home to the soldier and sailor away from home.”

“We identified these libraries as good locations because of high visibility, heavy traffic and repeat business, “Stringer explained, adding, “But after a while people begin to associate the library as a drop location and donate accordingly. Our mission is to honor and support our Veterans and returning Service Members and their families... one soldier at a time, filling the gap left between the VA, and other governmental organizations by providing local help and assistance. Library donors make this all happens, and we couldn’t be more grateful.”

   Persons wishing to send monetary donations can make checks out to A.R.M.S and drop them in the bin or mail them to Lucille Spring, A.R.M.S. treasurer, 51 Polo Club Drive, Freehold, NJ 07728.

     For more information on the program, visit (!