Magazines. Food. Laundry detergent. Gun-cleaning supplies.
Those are among the various items that Christie Coombs, whose husband Jeff Coombs died on Flight 11 on Sept. 11, 2001, is including in more than 25 care packages she’s sending to troops in Afghanistan to honor their service.
Within the packages will also be blue, black and white bracelets with the words “United by Hope” and “9/11 Memorial,” which Coombs recently received from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
“The guys had asked for something 9/11-related,” Coombs said in an interview. “It was the perfect solution. I think it’s something they’ll be proud to wear and feel honored to wear.”
Coombs and the Jeffrey Coombs Memorial Foundation send out care packages a few times a year, but this initiative is different from usual, she said. The bracelets will allow the soldiers to honor the tragedy of 9/11 as they requested. And with donations unexpectedly coming from across her community in Abington, Mass., she’s able to personalize the care packages for the soldiers based off of a list of needed goods from an Army flight medic serving in Afghanistan.
“We wanted to make these more special and personal,” Coombs said.
On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Coombs and another 9/11 widow distributed ribbons to participants in Ride 2 Recovery, a multi-day event in which bicycle riders cover hundreds of miles across the United States over several days. As the bikers rested at a stopover at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., they each received a ribbon with the name of a Massachusetts 9/11 victim or a U.S. troop who died.
One man, Staff Sgt. Spencer Anderson II, an Army flight medic now stationed in Afghanistan, approached Coombs and told her that he had the ribbon with Coombs’ husband’s name. From there, Anderson and Coombs became Facebook friends.
“He messaged me recently and said, ‘I’m in Afghanistan, and just so you know I still have Jeff’s ribbon, and I still think of him and all the 9/11 victims every day,’” Coombs said.
The two continued talking on Facebook, and Anderson told Coombs that supplies were becoming increasingly sparse overseas. That’s when Coombs launched the project with the help of two gold-star wives.
“I told Spencer that we wanted to make these care packages, and I asked what they wanted in them,” Coombs said. “He said, ‘Anything 9/11-related because that’s why we’re here. We won’t forget.’”
Coombs set up donation boxes around town at the firehouse and police station, spread the word on social media and received more support than she initially anticipated. She has an entire room in her house full of supplies. One person even dropped off a bag of items worth $158. The Massachusetts Iraq and Afghanistan Fallen Heroes Memorial Fund is helping with postage and shipping.
What also makes these packages unique, Coombs added, is that they are coming from women who lost their husbands either on 9/11 or fighting overseas. The project itself has garnered so much local attention that Coombs has had to limit the number of people helping out due to limited space.
All the packages have similar items in them, Coombs said. The troops asked for sports, cars and weapons magazines; foods like peanut butter, honey and beef jerky; and toiletries, among several goods and necessities. Coombs is also including T-shirts from different places to personalize the boxes based on where in the U.S. the different troops come from.
Coombs’ care package for Anderson will be especially personalized, Coombs said. She plans on giving him the actual bracelet she’s worn for the past year in her husband’s memory.
“What Spencer said is that they want to know people back home are supporting them and remember they’re over there and the challenges they face on a daily basis,” Coombs said. “Just sending a card or a letter – it means the world to them. I’m glad we can do this for them and put a smile on their face.”
By Jordan Friedman, 9/11 Memorial Research and Digital Projects Associate