Bright Idea

Gina Beck­er dis­cusses the im­port­ance of the ‘Op­er­a­tion Sun­block’ cam­paign. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

The harsh sun and desert weath­er can be a tough en­emy for our sol­diers in Ir­aq. Which got Gina Beck­er think­ing about sun­block.

The Ir­aqi desert can be a harsh place to live, and not just be­cause of the land­mines and snipers.

The ele­ments also pose a con­stant, po­ten­tially fatal threat to Amer­ic­an troops. Tem­per­at­ures of 120 de­grees and bey­ond are com­mon in sum­mer­time, while sub-freez­ing nights are a winter norm. Sea­son­al winds bring peri­od­ic daylong dust storms. Rain is rare but can be tor­ren­tial, turn­ing hard, bar­ren val­leys in­to tem­por­ary flood­wa­ter su­per­high­ways.

And per­haps no nat­ur­al factor is a great­er threat to Mar­ines, sol­diers and sail­ors than the re­lent­less, pen­et­rat­ing sun. What’s more, many of the men and wo­men in uni­form don’t have the sup­plies they need to pro­tect them­selves. The gov­ern­ment doesn’t provide it to them.

“A lot of our troops aren’t get­ting sun­screen, or what they’re get­ting isn’t ad­equate for the blaz­ing sun of the Middle East,” said Gina Beck­er, a Hor­sham-based nurse and in­de­pend­ent beauty con­sult­ant for Mary Kay Cos­met­ics.

Beck­er and many of her col­leagues have taken it upon them­selves to fill the void. In Ju­ly, Beck­er began so­li­cit­ing dona­tions for Op­er­a­tion Sun­block, an ef­fort to pre­pare and ship care pack­ages dir­ectly to de­ployed ser­vice­men and wo­men.

Each “set” con­tains SPF-30 sun­screen, SPF-15 lip block and re­plen­ish­ing soap for men or wo­men, along with sev­er­al fun items like Gummi bears, Skittles and pre-paid call­ing cards. Each pack­age also con­tains what the Mary Kay con­sult­ants call “a hug from home,” a per­son­al­ized note thank­ing the re­cip­i­ent for his or her self­less ser­vice.

“It’s a little let­ter with whatever the (donor) would like to write,” Beck­er said. “Any­body who donates a set can give a little thank you note, a little hug from home.”

For $20, a donor can spon­sor sun­screen and lip block for one per­son. A $35 dona­tion spon­sors the sun­screen, lip block, soap, can­dies and phone card.

Op­er­a­tion Sun­block has its ori­gins in Wis­con­sin with Mary Kay’s na­tion­al area sales dir­ect­or, Lisa Mad­son.

“One of the con­sult­ants in our group has a son with a lot of friends, and a lot of the young men are in the mil­it­ary,” Beck­er said. “I think she wanted to do something to sup­port the troops be­cause she feels they’re like her sons.”

A grass­roots ef­fort began in­form­ally a couple of years ago but it soon lost steam.

“We ended up send­ing boxes to a couple of troops, but I think the prob­lem was find­ing con­nec­tions (for spe­cif­ic units),” Beck­er said.

This year, they re­or­gan­ized the ef­fort with stronger back­ing from con­sult­ants and su­per­visors throughout the Mary Kay net­work. Beck­er’s loc­al sales dir­ect­or, Pat Nuzzi, is on board, as are sev­er­al oth­er con­sult­ants.

“Once I star­ted telling people what I was do­ing, they were like, ‘Send me the in­form­a­tion,’” Beck­er said. “Any­where I’ve been go­ing, I’ve been try­ing to pro­mote this, just to get the word out.”

She dis­trib­utes prin­ted in­form­a­tion about the pro­gram to all of her reg­u­lar cos­met­ics cli­ents and passes out fli­ers at demon­stra­tions, vendor events, craft fairs and reg­u­lar con­sult­ants’ meet­ings.

In early Septem­ber, she and her hus­band Steve, who is a Park­wood nat­ive, took part in a group mo­tor­cycle ride with the Broth­ers for Flight 93 to the 9/11 crash site in Shanks­ville, Pa. She pro­moted Op­er­a­tion Sun­block dur­ing the send-off ce­re­mony at Phil­adelphia’s pris­on com­plex on State Road in the North­east.

“I was talk­ing to John (Hamilton, the ride or­gan­izer) and he thought it would be a great pair­ing with the Broth­ers for Flight 93 ride,” Beck­er said.

“It’s been kind of a snow­ball ef­fect. It star­ted slow, but the more I’m get­ting the word out, it’s start­ing to snow­ball.”

A few weeks ago, Beck­er sent out the first 25 sets in a large box. Her con­tact is a friend, Ros­anne Kent, whose hus­band Tommy is de­ployed in the Middle East. Un­like some troop re­lief ef­forts, Op­er­a­tion Sun­block’s pack­ages are ad­dressed dir­ectly to spe­cif­ic re­cip­i­ents, so they shouldn’t be lost or di­ver­ted.

“I’ll find out how many troops are in (Kent’s) pla­toon so I can set a goal (for my­self),” Beck­er said.

She has yet to re­ceive re­sponses from the first ship­ment but is anxiously an­ti­cip­at­ing good news.

“I think it’ll be great once I get their feed­back,” Beck­er said. “Then I’ll be able to say to the people who donated that the troops got your dona­tion. Any­thing you get when you’re away like that, when you’re away from home, it’s like gold.” ••

For in­form­a­tion and dona­tions to Op­er­a­tion Sun­block, con­tact in­de­pend­ent beauty con­sult­ant Gina Beck­er at Gi­n­amk67@ve­r­i­ or 267-312-3990.

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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