Marta Taylor ()
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Many troops have written and sent expressions of their gratitude to Marta Taylor to thank her for her volunteer support of service members. (COURTESY OF MARTA TAYLOR)
Marta Taylor is known throughout Montrose, Colo., as the "Sugar Tooth Fairy."
Operation Sweet Tooth, which Taylor founded with her late husband, Landy, in 2003, has collected, packaged and shipped more than 376,000 pounds of toothbrushes, foot powder, shaving cream, chocolate, crackers and elk jerky — yes, elk jerky — to U.S. troops deployed overseas. For perspective, that's roughly the same weight as three Abrams battle tanks.
She even takes requests.
"I try to do my best, you know, whatever they ask for, but sometimes it's hard to get what they want," said Taylor, 72, who immigrated from Poland at age 40 and became a U.S. citizen in 2010. "Like black hair-color spray. Where do I find that?"
From the post office in Montrose, Taylor's care packages have shipped to military facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea, Germany, Japan and Kuwait. She makes a special effort to reach medical facilities caring for troops who are wounded or sick.
Valerie Strubel, a local postal clerk, got to know the Taylors because of their prodigious package-sending. Early on, Taylor would bring in a dolly full of items and casually wait in the post office's long lines. Once the packages were processed, she'd go back to the car and bring in more.
"She never complains," Strubel said of Taylor. "She is the most proud, modest, humble and generous person I have ever known. I consider it an honor to be her friend."
Operation Sweet Tooth started in the Taylors' home after the National Guard unit based in Montrose deployed to Iraq in early 2003. The Taylors had some friends in the unit. The night before it shipped out, the Taylors delivered 30 pizzas to the armories, and they told commanders to write if their soldiers needed anything.
Shortly after, requests starting pouring in. And they've continued for nearly a decade.
Every week, Taylor ships about 10 35-pound packages, costing anywhere from $350 to $500. Now, during the holidays, she prepares special boxes filled with candy, cocoa, coffee, cookies, socks, peanuts and other things wrapped in festive paper. It's important to her that deployed troops have a reminder of home.
"I think they deserve something better than what they have, and I try," Taylor said.
During the first year, the Taylors not only shopped for all of the items, they purchased them with their own money. That quickly became unsustainable.
"The news in Iraq spread so quickly," she said. "… I told my husband if we were to do this any longer, we'd be broke."
Since then, a local radio station has sponsored an annual fundraiser for Operation Sweet Tooth. Hosted by Jim Kerschner of KUBC-580 AM, the event is held each June to offset costs, which are substantial. Postage alone has ballooned to $30,000 a year.
Their first fundraiser cleared $25,000, Taylor said. Every year after that has brought in $50,000 — until last year, which set a record: $62,000.
The Taylors "are a people of limited means, who did this not because they are wealthy or because it's some sort of a hobby," said retired Brig. Gen. Stuart Pike, who served in the Colorado National Guard and learned about Operation Sweet Tooth through Landy Taylor, who contacted him seeking points of contact for the care packages. "This is … not something they did between rounds of golf. It was their lives."
Recipients of her care packages have sent Taylor thousands of thank you notes, American flags and war coins to repay her kindness, said her stepson, Trenton Taylor. Her favorite gift: a jewelry case containing Iraqi currency and a command coin with her name engraved on the back.
Strubel, the postal worker, said the Montrose community was inspired to see Operation Sweet Tooth continue despite Landy Taylor's death more than five years ago. A World War II veteran and former aviation executive, he was determined to see the project become a success. And so, Marta Taylor presses on.
"I will do it, until the troops come home."
Massey writes for Medill News Service.