Laureen Chischilly who is Navajo and lives in Phoenix, Arizona recalled when her son Marcus enlisted in the Marines right after he finished high school in 2005. She worried about him and frequently prayed for his safety. It was a difficult adjustment for Laureen, her husband Josh, and their four daughters, Sheila, Gabrielle, Michelle, and Shantelle when Marcus left. She remembers that she was happy when they were able to start sending Marcus care packages with non-perishable foods, snacks, and personal hygiene items as often as they could. She never could have guessed that this would be the start of the difference she would make in the lives of so many members of the military.
It all began when Laureen’s son told her about someone he knew that never got any mail or packages. She took it upon herself to start sending this soldier packages too. Over time, the Chischilly family started doing this for more people and eventually her dining room table was covered with care packages that they were filling. They were sending packages to about 50 soldiers a month which Laureen says was quite an expense and it was becoming a bit much for them to purchase all the food, toiletries and other items that they were putting in the care packages.
After being introduced to Packages from Home, she became a dedicated volunteer and spent countless hours setting up booths to gather donations and putting together care packages. According to the official website, they have three branches in their organization which are Packages from Home, Bones from Home, and Packages for Hope. Packages from Home, the original mission, was to send care packages to active military members stationed overseas. Bones from Home provides packages to K9 military teams and veteran service animals. Packages for Hope began in 2012 and provides care packages to transitioning homeless and at-risk veterans.
Unfortunately, their story took a devastating turn in October 2010 when Marcus was seriously injured when he was deployed to Afghanistan for seven months. Laureen recalls that he had been deployed 3 times previously to Iraq but when he was deployed to Afghanistan, she had a bad feeling. “Something was different, it just didn’t feel right” Laureen recalled. They were just returning from a veterans event when she received the called that her son had stepped on an IED and was in serious condition. Laureen says that she fell to the floor devastated with the news. Their family was unable to see him for 3 days as he was flown from Afghanistan to Germany and finally back to the US on the third day. Laureen and Josh went to see him in a Maryland hospital. When they arrived, Marcus’ status was unstable, doctor’s were unsure if he would survive the injuries or if he would lose both legs. Thankfully, although he lost a leg and other injuries to his other leg and right arm, Marcus spent two years recovering and is doing well and living with his family in California.
When her son was home, Laureen asked herself if maybe it was time to stop doing the packages but she couldn’t bring herself to end it. She would think of the soldiers that didn’t have anything and couldn’t bear to not continue sending the care packages. At first, she was a volunteer for the organization but today she is the Vice-President of the board and you can catch her along with her supportive family at many events with a table sharing information and collecting donations. Josh shares that when they are at these events, they meet Veterans who will sometimes pass by the table a couple times before they stop to have a conversation. The Chischilly’s shared that they like that the Veteran’s will share their stories with them and sometimes it seems as if a weight is lifted from the Veterans as they tell their stories and experiences. Laureen and her family feel like being able to reach soldiers when they are overseas and then connecting with Veterans when they return is rewarding and it’s why they continue to be involved with this organization.
It’s often said that there is nothing more powerful than the love of a mother and Laureen’s story is example of that. She took a difficult time in her life and turned it into something that is making a huge difference in the lives of so many members of the military.
Laureen, thank you for being a light to those who are in a dark place, feel homesick and alone. Your countless hours of service is appreciated and inspiring. Ahe’hee!
If you would like more information about Packages from Home or would like to get involved, please visit their website at https://www.packagesfromhome.org .