A Box of Instant Smiles

By Marcia Faye
A Box of Instant Smiles Image
Lucie Weir and her daughter Joanna carry a bin of donations collected for SouthTown 9.12 Project Chicago.
Photo: Bonnie Robinson

Lucie Weir’s ‘Aha!’ moment galloped in at a neighborhood Kentucky Derby party last year.

“A group of parents were there and one couple was telling me that their son, serving in the military, needed them to ship him some sunscreen because it was beginning to get warm,” says Weir, assistant to Dean Ali Cinar of IIT’s Graduate College. “And that’s when it clicked.”

What clicked was Weir’s idea to set in motion SouthTown 9.12 Project Chicago, a grassroots effort to provide troop members overseas and stateside with a touch of home and comfort in the form of tubes of sunscreen, bars of facial soap, pop-top cans of fruit, wrapped hard candy, decks of playing cards, all-purpose white T-shirts and socks, and more. Weir has been busy sorting items from 19 collection sites for this year's project, which runs through July 22.

Weir’s first SouthTown 9.12 Project drive over spring/summer 2011 brought in close to $15,000 in supplies-enough to prepare 230 individual-sized boxes-donated largely from Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood, where Weir lives and grew up, and the other near South Side communities. The abundance reflected the name of the project-9.12-for the spirit of the united front Americans presented on the day after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“I couldn’t believe the outpouring; it was nothing I expected,” admits Weir, noting that veterans were especially generous, purchasing goods from discounted retail shops to stretch their meager dollars and maximize their donations.

Weir’s only connection to the military is her father, a United States Marine Corps veteran of the Korean Conflict, and her daughter Joanna, a third-year IIT College of Psychology student, who had expressed an interest in either joining the military or counseling veterans after graduation. After attending the Derby party, Weir took her idea to the community with a local newspaper appeal. One by one, citizens and groups responded, providing suggestions for drop-off sites and even payment for shipping costs.

A unique aspect of the SouthTown 9.12 Project is in its simplicity: family and friends with loved ones in the military share their names and addresses with Weir, who then surprises the recipient with a special delivery box of treats. If a post-drive surplus of items exists, the remaining portion is sent to local armories and other organizations working to support the military.

“The project is important to me because I love helping people,” says Joanna Weir, who assists her mother with the SouthTown 9.12 Project and volunteers for the summer at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center. “The soldiers serving in Afghanistan and around the world need these supplies to stay upbeat, entertained, and healthy. It’s important that they know we appreciate the sacrifices they make every day so we can remain free. I’m happy that I can give them what they need and put a smile on their faces.”

Echoing her sentiments, serviceman Jeremy Domagalski at Camp Vance in Bagram, Afghanistan, sent an email to the SouthTown 9.12 Project noting that he distributed the contents of his box to some local children as well as his comrades and expressing his deep gratitude for the gift’s serendipitous arrival.

“I wish I could keep going on about how much this has meant to everyone, but we’re going to a memorial in 15 minutes for all of the soldiers who fell in the mass attack last night that left one of our bases burned to the ground,” he said. “So this package couldn’t have come at a better time. It put the smiles back on our faces. Thanks so much again for everything!”