COVINGTON - For the last three years, Conyers resident Darrel King has been making sure soldiers deployed overseas get a taste of home. A hot cup of Starbucks coffee, to be exact.
King has partnered with seven area Starbucks stores, including the one in Conyers, to solicit donations from customers of 1-pound bags of the speciality coffee to ship to the troops.
Customers purchase the bags for between $9.95 and $13.95 per pound. They're then asked to write a personal message of thanks and well wishes on the bag with a marker famously used by Starbucks employees to write orders on coffee cups.
King collects donations weekly from the Starbucks in Conyers, Tucker, Lawrenceville, Monroe, Madison and McDonough.
Right now, he's got about 800 pounds of coffee that will be shipped out Monday to soldiers in Iraq, Iran, Germany and a base in Virginia.
Often, donors give the names and addresses of specific soldiers, and King makes sure the coffee gets to them.
An Army veteran, King said he knows what it's like to be far away from loved ones, and he just wants to give the troops some comfort.
"I have a heart for them. I remember what it was like in the Army on border patrol at Christmas time, thinking of home," he said.
So popular have the Starbucks gift bags been that soldiers of the 7th Sustainment Brigade serving in Iraq have built a coffee shop where they can sit and enjoy the treat, the brigade's chaplain wrote King in a thank-you e-mail.
The Warpaint Squadron out of Savannah that served in Operation Iraqi Freedom also sent King thanks in the form of a certificate of appreciation.
"Your contributions were crucial to the success of the unit mission both individually and collectively throughout the deployment and in returning home," the certificate states.
But King is quick to point out he doesn't do the work alone.
Pastor Jeff Meyers of First Baptist Church of Conyers pays for all the shipping. The money does not come out of the church fund, but Meyers' own bank account. The shipment that will go out Monday is costing him about $250.
"I'm a big supporter of our military. I've had friends that served and family that served. I never personally did. I think because I never personally served I'm so grateful to the men and women who do," Meyers said.
Included in every package are CDs, Bibles and other faith-based reading materials.
"We know they're going to drink the coffee. We hope and pray that they digest the other materials," Meyers said.
Also essential to the project is cooperation from Starbucks managers.
Kelley Smith, manager of the Starbucks in Conyers, has embraced the project.
"It's definitely a community push," Smith said. "We're in a good community here in Conyers ... the feeling out here is that they care. That pushes us to care."
If donations are low, managers of Starbucks try to pitch in, Smith said. But for the most part, it's the customers who keep it going. The giving is contagious, she said, noting that one customer recently bought 10 bags, inspiring 15 more customers to buy.
Customers have even bought coffee pressers to send, Smith said. She added that soldiers are now requesting Starbucks stir sticks.
"We've got nice stir sticks. They stand up in the elements," she said.
Now that the Georgia National Guard's 48th Brigade, including soldiers based at the Covington Armory, are shipping out to Afghanistan, this is a perfect opportunity for the community to help their own, King said.
Those who would like to help should come by Starbucks, located at 1515 Ga. Highway 138 N.E., and tell an employee the purchase is for the troops. Donors are welcome to leave names and addresses where they'd like the coffee to be sent.
"We want folks here to know they can support them with something other than calls or e-mails, with something tangible," King said.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.