Jim and Nancy Caronis founded Operation Buckeye at their dining room table in 2005, hoping to bring deployed soldiers a touch of home.

Jim and Nancy Caronis founded Operation Buckeye at their dining room table in 2005, hoping to bring deployed soldiers a touch of home.

In the organization's first year, they sent out 94 care packages. The total has now reached more than 13,500.

"I think we've just become more proficient in the way that we're able to have more people come, more people pack. We've gotten very diverse," Jim Caronis said.

He said he hopes the organization will reach its goal to send 20,000 care packages by the end of this year.

"I worry about the people that don't get anything," Caronis said. "Here are young men, women, parents, mothers, fathers, husbands that are over there, so by golly, we're going to send them some boxes."

He is a member of the 1952 class of North High School and a graduate of The Ohio State University. Caronis and his wife live in Worthington.

Community connections allow Operation Buckeye to flourish, Caronis said. The organization made its first home in the former Ohio State union. When the union was demolished, fellow North High grad Ray Crook donated space in a building located at 4284 N. High St. in Beechwold.

Caronis is a member of the OSU chapter of Alpha Tau Omega. His fraternity brothers Dick and Jim Tressel lend financial support to Operation Buckeye and help with ongoing fundraising efforts.

"We are one of the few organizations that I am aware of that send boxes on a year-round basis," Caronis said. He enjoys "just deep down knowing we brought maybe a little bit of sunshine into somebody's life."

Soldiers send letters expressing their appreciation for the care packages, and Caronis likes to share their stories.

One of his favorite stories came from a Michigan native. "There was one individual from that state up north. 'I've always been a Wolverine fan,' he says, 'but I must tell you, today I'm a Buckeye.'"

Operation Buckeye volunteers aim to include a variety of items in each care package, from non-perishable food to personal hygiene supplies to paperback books. Single-serve food packages are especially useful, Caronis said, and any items that cannot be used are donated to Clintonville's food pantry.

Each box also reflects its Columbus origins. Mary Leavitt, known locally as the Flag Lady, supplies flags for the packages, and, when the temperature allows, Buckeye candy is included in every box.

Caronis said the organization also responds to specific requests. When a group of soldiers in Afghanistan reported that they were overrun with mice, Operation Buckeye sent a box of mouse traps.

The soldiers scraped the cheese from the inside of Lance sandwich crackers to bait the traps, Caronis said. It proved to be effective.

"At 1:30 in the morning, it was like a musical concerto," he said, "The traps were all springing."

Caronis is assisted by numerous volunteers, including Richard Strait, a member of North High's class of 1953. Strait lives in the Hilltop area of Columbus.

"We exchange a lot of ideas," Strait said. "I like to do a lot of special projects."

Strait said it costs $10.70 to ship each box, which weigh an average of seven pounds. "The postage eats us alive," he said.

Currently, Operation Buckeye works to raise money for postage through its Adopt-a-Box program at Polaris Mall. Volunteers solicit $10 donations to cover the postage for one box and ask individuals to write a note to a soldier.

The Adopt-a-Box program raised $14,000 last year, Caronis said, and he hopes they will be able to expand the program to Tuttle Mall in the near future.

Caronis also wants to add a chapter of Operation Buckeye at OSU.

"There are over 1200 veterans on campus at OSU," Caronis said, "They have a group called Vets for Vets."

Operation Buckeye will work with volunteer groups who would like to schedule a time to pack boxes, Caronis said.

Regular packing hours are held from 1 to 3:30 p.m. the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, and Adopt-a-Box volunteers will be at Polaris March 19-21.

Groups that want to complete specific projects can also be accommodated. Recently, volunteers donated items such as homemade knit caps and Christmas stockings.

"It's groups like that that say, 'We can still make a contribution, we can still help out'" Caronis said. "It's untapped out there."

Monetary donations may be dropped off at any Huntington Bank branch. More information on donating items is available at www.operationbuckeye.org, or by calling Caronis at (614) 844-4410.

"We'll be here until our soldiers are home," Strait said.