PHILADELPHIA -- Boxes upon boxes sat in the Phillies' clubhouse on Wednesday morning at Citizens Bank Park. Some were headed to Afghanistan, while others would be shipped to the Pacific and Europe.
Liberty USO had reached the conclusion of its annual Operation Stocking Stuffers Care Package program, with some final help from the Phillies. The three-month collection program culminated with about 2,500 care packages being shipped to military personnel overseas for the holidays. Capt. Howard W. "Bud" Evans and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ellen Smith -- both of whom have Philadelphia ties -- volunteered and got a nice surprise from the Phillie Phanatic: a trip to Clearwater, Fla., for Spring Training.
"This is over the top," Evans said.
"I just missed the entire season, so it'll be a really remarkable way to get back into the games," Smith said.
Liberty USO president and CEO Joe Brooks said the USO of Pennsylvania and South Jersey already has shipped 10,000 care packages this year to deployed military.
"I'm blessed because I get to receive real-time feedback via Facebook, Twitter and email," Brooks said. "In each of these care packages, we put cards inside and say, 'Let us know.' We'll get something at 4 o'clock in the morning. We got one recently from a Sergeant in Afghanistan. He said this care package arrived at the absolute right time. Morale was at a low, and it immediately made him smile."
Evans and Smith echoed that sentiment.
"The care packages are uplifting," Evans said. "It's kind of hard to describe. Mail call is special already, but then you see something coming from Liberty USO and it's your hometown? That's even better."
"It really is a taste of home," Smith said. "It just gives you a moment of respite from this crazy, austere environment. Just to have a cup of coffee or a Tastykake or something from home is great."
The stockings packaged at the ballpark include DVDs, food and Phillies items. The Phils-related stockings will be distributed to military with ties to the area.
"We sent a care package last year full of stockings," Brooks said. "We assign them to one person, and then he hands them out to everybody in his unit. Well, there was an L.A. Dodgers fan in one unit. He sent a photo back that said, 'Phillies fan for a day. Thank you, Liberty USO.' It was really cool."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com.