The last time Grace Houle heard from her son was in an e-mail telling her he couldn't say where he was going.
Houle's son, U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Terry C. Waters is with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Iraq.
Houle guesses he was with soldiers who helped secure Basra, and he is now somewhere near Nasiriya.
For her, the hardest part is not knowing, and Thursday was especially hard.
"It's his (38th) birthday today," said Houle a bartender at SlotWorld.
Houle said Waters is on a special assignment, and that there is no way to communicate with him.
"I do pretty good most of the time," she said. "Until I'm alone, and then I fall apart. What's hardest is that there's no communication. Each soldier is important, but a lot can write, send e-mails or have phone cards ... I try to write something every day."
Houle recently learned she could send packages.
"I saw that on the news, and I said 'I'm on a mission,'" she said.
She's been on a shopping spree with her granddaughters at Costco and has collected many items from her co-workers at SlotWorld, items from work and things from friends.
With the help of her daughter, Charity Hart, and grandchildren 3-year-old E.J. Hart, 5-year-old Madison Hart and 7-year-old Morgan Hart, Houle packaged enough toothpaste, shaving gear, granola bars, cigarettes, matches, Band-Aids, Visine, candy, baby wipes, taco sauce, puzzle books, pencils and stationary so that each soldier in her son's unit will receive a package.
SlotWorld chipped in with hot chocolate packets, taco sauce and honey.
"He's the leader of the platoon so I wanted to make it really special," Houle said. "It felt good to be able to donate."
Houle took a huge bundle of boxes to the post office for the troops.
"When you consider it's going to 35 guys, that's a lot of supplies," she said. "It cost me $58 to send all of that, and I sent it priority mail."
So many Northern Nevadans have donated to the troops that the Sierra Nevada Chapter of the Red Cross is buried in supplies. They are holding a sort-and-pack event today and Wednesday so that shipping can begin.
YOU CAN HELP
What: Red Cross sort-and-pack events for troops
When: 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. today and Wednesday
Where: Red Cross offices, 1190 Corporate Blvd., Reno, NV 89502
Call: 856-1000 or send money to help pay for postage