Bothell Navy mom becomes overseas hero, providing care packages for 130 sailors

Many people believe a box is just a box or a letter is just a letter. That a box cannot hold importance or special significance, but one Navy mom showed dozens of sailors that a single box can bring an abundance of joy during a time of slim hope.

Many people believe a box is just a box or a letter is just a letter. That a box cannot hold importance or special significance, but one Navy mom showed dozens of sailors that a single box can bring an abundance of joy during a time of slim hope.

A few years ago, Bothell’s MaryJo Bader officially became a Navy mom as she said goodbye to her son, Jonathan (a Cedar Park Christian graduate), as he departed for Japan where he would be stationed in the Navy for the next three years. Last September, while she was talking with her son oceans away, he thanked her for her recent box of goods and letters and mentioned that one of his friends never received mail and asked if she could send him a care package. Ecstatic in receiving his first care package, Ryan Tu began to write to his new Navy mom, a communication that has lasted to the present day.

Inquiring how many other sailors were in the same position as Tu, MaryJo contacted the omsbudman, the person in command of communication with family members, and was informed that out of 300 sailors in that squadron, 130 of them received nothing in the mail.

“That’s almost half. I couldn’t believe it. I was floored. I told her you’ve got to be kidding,” MaryJo said. The woman informed MaryJo that some men and woman in the military join to escape from a distressing family or home situation.

Being a mother herself with a son in the Navy, MaryJo grasped how important it was for a sailor to receive a care package or even a letter.

“A lot of Jon’s success has been support from home,” she said.

After hearing how many single sailors, men and woman who are not married and who do not have family existed in Jon’s squadron, MaryJo said, “Barry (her husband) and I just found that totally unacceptable. These young men and woman are serving for our freedom and country and they should know that people back here care about them.”

MaryJo went into full commitment mode and started requesting donations from friends and family to fill Christmas care packages for 130 sailors.

“Barry and I basically made the commitment that if we had to do it ourselves, we were going to send 130 boxes to those sailors,” she said. In less than three months, MaryJo had pulled together enough donations and volunteers. “We managed to do it. We did it right here in our dining room. I have pictures of us packing the boxes and stacking them out in the garage,” she added with a laugh.

Along with filling the boxes, there is also a customs form that has to be filled out for every box.

“Last year, I went in ahead of time and told them, ‘You really don’t want me walking in with 130 boxes in the middle of the day.’ So they scheduled an appointment for me and brought in an extra postmaster just for that appointment. Even then, it took us about two and a half hours,” she said.

Placed in every box were snacks, clothing, toiletry items, books and much more, but most importantly there was a letter from MaryJo and cards and drawings donated by children from various schools. Each sailor who wrote back to MaryJo mentioned the letters and some of them even asked for the kids’ mail addresses because they wanted to send something back to them. In appreciation to the woman who created this sailor ministry, all the men, including her own son, gave her a signed card and a gift card to Applebee’s.

After the holidays, MaryJo never expected to hear from the sailors whom she had blessed with such a priceless gift.

“I always put my e-mail address and a poem in each box, just in case they want to write back, but I don’t expect them to. It’s really meant to be one way, but I was pretty surprised by the number of them that do write back,” she said.

One sailor’s note reads: “I want to say thank you very much for the single sailor’s box that was sent here to the squadron. I, like a lot of my friends, won’t be going anywhere for Christmas. What you did for us here made us all very happy and long for the USA. Care packages are great reminders of the sacrifice we all pay here, being stationed so far away from home in a foreign country, and little reminders of our family and friends that we are protecting go a long way. Thank you, and have a Merry Christmas.”

This year, the number of single sailors has risen to 195, as they would like to send additional boxes to all the sailors who won’t be able to go home at Christmas. With the growing number of needed boxes, MaryJo decided to title her sailor ministry “SOS: Support Our Sailors.”

Hoping to complete the full order, MaryJo is asking for donations from the community. Below is a list of items that are needed for the care packages. MaryJo sent out this list in a mass e-mail to her friends and family.

• “Individual sizes of cookies crackers, candy, beef jerky, trail mix; things that aren’t going to get crashed; they love it.”

• “We need many, many cards and letters written to the sailors. By both adults and children. Postcards with pictures of your local area or city are great also. Kids can draw pictures, etc. Some kids, because they heard that Jon was a rescue swimmer, got the idea that all the guys were rescue swimmers. And I don’t know how, but they seemed to think they were on submarines, but the guys got a real laugh out of those pictures. If you want the possibility of a response, include your e-mail address and/or a self-addressed envelope and card and tell them you would love to hear from them. You don’t need to put postage on the envelope as they can mail without it.” 

• “We also need money for postage. We used the medium flat-rate boxes, and you’re talking $10.70 per box.”

• “Other fun stuff includes CDs, travel-size games, card games, used magazines (Newsweek, People, Sports Illustrated, car related, fitness related), nerf balls, squirt guns, comic books.”

• “Health and hygiene (small sizes): aspirin, antacids, body soap, lip balm, cough drops, disposable razors, foot powder, hand sanitizer, tooth brushes, Q-tips, Thera-Flu, antibiotic ointment, tooth paste, tide pens, hand lotion, hand and foot warmers, heat packs, shaving cream, fabric softener sheets.”

• “Miscellaneous: batteries, boot socks (gray or black only with thick soles — Walmart has them), white socks for off-work time, bug spray, gloves, pens, small pads of paper, sunscreen.”

• “Girl stuff like clear nail polish, compact powder, shampoo/cream rinse, body lotion, girl magazines.”

MaryJo puts it best, “Remember, these men and women are out there away from home during the holidays. We just want to let them know that we support them and there are people back here who care about them. We may not be able to help all the sailors in our Navy, but we can make a difference for these sailors. One at a time, we will make a difference.”

If you wish to donate or volunteer to the Support Our Sailors ministry, contact MaryJo at or (425) 205-0668.

Liz Cummings is a Cedar Park Christian graduate.