The most common item found amongst the hoarded supplies of the disgraced Boxes for Heroes organization: baby wipes.
That may sound strange, but those moist tissues are popular with soldiers in the Middle East, said former Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey. Unfortunately, the baby wipes never reached soldiers. Frank Roach, founder of the non-profit organization Boxes for Heroes, is alleged to have kept supplies and monetary donations for his own use.
Carey and other local organizations are working to redistribute the items. They’ve sorted through a convoy of boxes, previously kept as evidence by the Kenai Police Department. The volunteers disposed of some items, but they rescued many items to be sent to their intended recipients.
An Anchorage judge released the confiscated materials to Carey about three weeks ago at the request of KPD Investigator Jeff Whannell, who led the investigation against Roach and his organization. Whannell chose Carey to redistribute the donations, in part, due to the public figure’s own history of supporting soldiers through the local Red, White and Blue Program.
Carey created the program 11 years ago, shortly after 9/11. At one point, it sent boxes weekly to 127 different service members, he said.
The Alaska Office of Special Prosecutions indicted Roach in May. His charges include scheme to defraud, first-degree theft and seven counts of second-degree theft. An investigation revealed the organization raised more than $140,000 during a seven-month period.
Roach started the organization in April 2010. He allegedly claimed it was raising money to send care packages to deployed soldiers. Roach’s workers collected donations at retail stores from Wasilla to Homer and from telephone solicitations, according to a special prosecutions press release.
A total of 12 vehicles — larger SUVs, including a flatbed truck — hauled the supplies to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Soldotna.
Personal hygiene products, like toothpaste, combs and lotion filled the many boxes. But volunteers found a lot of baby wipes, Carey said.
“The dust, grit and sand over in the Middle East is so bad,” he said. “That is one of the things (Red, White and Blue) have always been asked to send to soldiers.”
Dry foods — cookies, candy and noodles — also filled the boxes, as well as canned vegetables and jars of smoked salmon. Six totes of expired foods were thrown out, Carey said.
The volunteers split their workload into three categories: discarded items, items the military won’t except or items that are hazardous to ship and items for redistribution. Some types of liquids are preferred to others when sending care packages overseas; if the contents are spilled while in transit then the entire package risks ruin. This has left the volunteers with 40 cases of Otter Pops, which are freezable popsicles.
Instead, those boxes were given to local recruitment offices to distribute to servicemen passing through or potential recruits, Carey said.
“That was one of the largest collections of donations we cannot send,” he said. “There was also a box of knives in one of the containers, and we can’t send those.”
Carey spoke from the Soldotna Catholic Church, where community members discussed redistribution methods, on Thursday. Locals and national organizations have shared an interest in shipping the items.
The United States National Guard is working to distribute items throughout Alaska and overseas. An Army Chaplain, who spoke at Soldotna High School last school year, has contacted Carey and offered assistance. The Veterans Center at Kalifornsky Beach Road is also receiving food, as they are constantly seeking donations for veterans.
Those providing assistance are the Soldotna Catholic Church, the Soldotna Elks Lodge, the Kenai American Legion, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President Gary Knopp, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre and local military recruiters, among others.
Boxes for Heroes hasn’t cast a negative shadow on efforts to donate items to the troops, Carey said. In fact, as word spread about the effort, many residents stepped forward in support.
“Everyone has been wonderful,” he said. “At every step, people have helped out.”
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.