Boxes covered with children’s drawings and bright colors are lowered in nets from helicopters over Afghanistan. The soldiers point up and they know: Those are Vargas’ packages, they say.
Nicole Vargas pulls resources to send soldiers care packages through Adopt a Soldier program, and thanks to donations she has been able to send roughly eight boxes a month filled with socks, baby wipes, candy, cookies and beef jerky, amongst other basics for military personnel overseas. She also gets letters all the time that kids in summer camps, schools and churches write for the soldiers.
It started in 2000. Vargas experienced a traumatizing series of events when a neighbor used the threat of a shotgun to try and kidnap Vargas in what she believes would have then led to sexual assault had she not fought off the man and gotten away from the vehicle. The incident changed her life.
“I was just mad at the world,” Vargas recalled, but she turned her anger into productive work.
“It doesn’t do anybody any good for you to live like that … mad at everybody … it’s a horrible life,” she said. “But somehow God had a plan for me, because I started doing the Adopt a Soldier program. And it was a healing process for me.”
The idea for the program was her lifeline, but in January 2001, another lifeline was dropped in the form of some soldiers, home for Christmas, who showed up on her doorstep.
“These guys in camo had this paper and my name was on there,” Vargas said, reliving the memory. “It was like Aunt Jane, Grandma Jones, Mom, Dad and then my name was on there. And I was like, ‘Why would ya’ll waste your time, when you have 10 days here, to see me?’ And they were like, ‘You don’t know what your packages did for us. There are times when we don’t think anyone remembers us out there. Does anybody care that we’re still out there? And then we get a package from you and it’s like hell yeah people care, hell yeah people love us.’ … And it just did something for me. It was like hey, quit feeling sorry for yourself; bad s— happens, get your s— together and let’s go. Let’s roll.”
Not only are the soldiers grateful for the packages Vargas organizes and ships out, but she is also a contact, always reachable by phone when the men and women away from home need to hear a friendly voice.
“Any time, day or night, I’m there to talk to them,” Vargas said. She always has her phone on and charged.
But the soldiers have done something for her as well: they gave her a reason to look past her own self-pity and move forward with life.
“It’s done something for me,” she said. “I probably wasn’t going to be very much in my life. Somehow God put this project in my head and the seed spurted and now we have a field of daisies.”
And the field keeps growing with community service programs and a new partnership with Ranchline All Natural, a beef jerky company that will match Vargas’ jerky sales every quarter. It is $9 to send a pack of beef jerky, but Vargas says it’s just spending $9 on a soldier.
“You’re going to send him something that will make his whole week for nine bucks, when he’s been in Afghanistan for 18 months for you,” she said.
And although not paid for her work, not all payments come in the form of cash. She is paid in a different way, she said, holding her hand to her chest, “It’s priceless.”
It’s priceless to the soldiers as well. Priceless to those who count on her packages to boost morale and remind them people at home still care. Priceless to those who now know Vargas under a different name: “Soldier Chick.”