UPPER TOWNSHIP — This is a busy time of year for Robin McCauley.
The 34-year-old mother from Tuckahoe is preparing to send thousands of cards and gift bags filled with candy and popcorn to troops stationed overseas during the holidays. It’s something she has been doing every year since 2009.
“I do have a brother-in-law who is in the service, and at the time he was stationed overseas,” McCauley said. “So I just wanted to do something little — never knowing that, nine years later, it would become 2,000 bags (and) thousands of cards.”
“Project Love Cards” has since become a community effort, with the Marmora Volunteer Fire Company, Johnson's Popcorn and other local businesses and organizations chipping in to help.
The cards are filled out by hand, and the gift bags are packed with chocolate, hard candy, bubblegum, candy canes and popcorn.
McCauley said her goal this year is to send 1,500 bags with three cards each to members of the armed forces serving outside the United States.
The hardest part of the process is collecting names and addresses for service members, she said. The military doesn’t allow McCauley to send bulk shipments of the bags to bases, so she gets contact information through the National Guard, social media and word of mouth.
“People always question me like, ‘Why do you take the time?’” said McCauley, who works as a chiropractic assistant. “I say, ‘The time I take for one full month is nothing compared to what they do for us.’”
McCauley starts planning for Project Love Cards in mid-October, and she buys a lot of the candy the day after Halloween. She said she has already spent about $500 on the treats. Some of the candy is also donated by friends and neighbors.
Most of the cards are written out by people from South Jersey, but McCauley said she has received cards from as far away as Florida. Local schools also help fill out the cards, she said.
“They can thank them, and they can encourage them,” McCauley said. “They can write a message. They can simply sign their name.”
Recently McCauley and her daughter Payton, 4, have been writing out and decorating about 30 cards per night.
Her daughter said she likes the work.
“It gives me something to do,” Payton said.
McCauley's sister Robin McCauley, an uncle and a friend will spend a good part of three days on the porch of her parents’ house in Marmora assembling the bags next month. They will be shipped out through the post office in Marmora sometime between Dec. 5 and 12.
The boxes of gift bags could be shipped to Cuba, Iraq, Germany or any number of countries where troops are stationed, McCauley said.
“Overseas, they’re usually pretty much by themselves,” McCauley said. “It’s one thing to be away, but then to be away at the holidays when you’re normally with family ... .”
McCauley is still looking for people to fill out cards, and donate hard candy, individual snacks, and money for shipping and supplies.
Donations for Project Love Cards can be dropped off by Dec. 1 at South Shore Chiropractic, 1217 Route 9, Suite 101 in Upper Township. For information call 609-602-4830.