Coups for Troops: Clipping Coupons for a Cause
When I was given the assignment to write a story about the founder of a coupon organization, I immediately prepared myself to meet one of those “extreme couponers.”
You know the ones: middle-aged ladies with their hair pulled back, doing warm-up push-ups in the grocery store parking lot, over-stuffed three-ring binders strapped to their shopping cart, Excel spreadsheet grocery list in hand. The serious shoppers that speed through the store with intensity in their eyes and “don’t you dare take the last bottle of free hot sauce” written on their foreheads. They wow the cashiers with their ability to bring their balance to $0, exiting the store with four carts overflowing with grocery goods, leaving all other “normal” customers dead in their tracks, jaws on the ground.
I can illustrate these shoppers so accurately because I, at times, can be found doing parking lot lunges alongside this elite group of coupon crazies. I was expecting to meet one of my own.
When I interviewed Stephanie Almasy, however, I was shocked. The soft-spoken young woman defied every bit of the couponer stereotype. She knows her coupon stuff, sure. And she is passionate about coupon policies, no doubt. But her heart is set on enabling others to save, not how many free noodles she can score. (I say this with love, as my pantry currently holds 28 boxes of free spaghetti noodles).
Her demeanor is calm, her spirit is gentle, and she has yet to use a spreadsheet and graphing calculator for her weekly grocery shopping. Her passion goes beyond scoring the most cereal for the least amount possible. For Almasy, it’s all about helping those who help us.
Proud to be an American
“I was raised in a conservative home,” says Almasy. “I was raised to be proud of our country, always. And the older I get, the more patriotic I become.”
When Almasy was growing up, her father worked in law enforcement; he now serves as a civilian with special ops in the military. Almasy’s husband, Jon, is a local law enforcement officer.
“I have always had a service mentality,” says Almasy. “I have great respect for those [who] protect us, those [who] protect our country.”
Given Almasy’s ties to the service and her naturally generous heart, she was positioned perfectly for what came next. In 2010 she was introduced to a program that supports service members in a way that is unique, valuable and much appreciated: Couponing.
Yes, couponing. The sport can be good for more than just an adrenaline rush and free mustard.
Her coupon calling
Almasy was introduced to couponing by way of her husband, Jon.
“Jon came home from small group on several occasions talking about how much money his friend’s wife had saved on groceries,” explains Almasy. “Jodi has three kids, two dogs and a husband to feed. And she saves crazy amounts of money.”
Almasy heard about a couponing class that the friend was hosting where aspiring couponers would be taught the basics of saving big. Almasy attended and was immediately hooked.
“After that class, I went to another course held by a group called Wilmington Couponistas,” says Almasy.
It was during this class that Almasy learned how expired coupons could be put to good use.
“They mentioned that you could keep expired coupons and donate them to help military families offset the high cost of living outside of the States,” says Almasy. “And that was all the information I got. I went home and researched it more. I found an organization, but its website was difficult to follow and the process to participate was a headache. You had to sort the coupons, tally them up, and so on.”
Almasy eventually located an organization called Coups for Troops. She contacted the group, inquiring if she could collect coupons locally and send them in for their group to distribute.
“And I never heard back,” says Almasy. “I found out that they had closed down because they couldn’t afford the postage to send the coupons overseas.”
Almasy originally intended to simply clip and collect coupons that she would then send to another entity to manage and mail. Because she was unable to locate an organization that fit the characteristics that she had in mind, she decided to start her own group.
“I didn’t want to make it complicated or require postage payments from coupon donators,” says Almasy. “I wanted something that was easy for people to drop coupons in the mail and be done with it.”
Coups for Troops: The Carolinas was born.
Mr. Pockets makes it work
“A friend of mine said that if I started my own group, he would fund the shipping to get the coupons overseas,” says Almasy. “I call him Mr. Pockets.”
In April 2011, with the help of “Mr. Pockets,” Almasy mailed her first shipment of coupons to 26 service members overseas. In June, she mailed to 120 families, and in July she mailed to more than 300. At press time, her current list included more than 400 military families requesting coupons.
At the beginning of each month, Almasy mails packages stuffed full of expired coupons to the doorsteps of active service members stationed everywhere from Guam to Hawaii, Germany to Japan.
The expired coupon policy exists because those stationed overseas don’t have access to coupons like we do here in the United States. All commissaries overseas accept expired coupons; commissaries in the States do not accept expireds. Almasy sends to a few families in Hawaii and Alaska (when she has enough to send) because the cost of living is high in those states.
“I get donations of unused, expired and current clipped coupons from people all over the world,” she explains. “I have a lot of folks that get the papers on Sunday but don’t use their coupons, so they mail them to me. We also have drop boxes all over the country for people to drop their coupons there and then they get shipped to me all at once. That way, folks don’t have to pay the postage to get them to me.”
Locally, coupon drop boxes are placed at the Winnabow Post Office and various locations in Wilmington. A map of all drop box locations is posted on the Coups for Troops website.
“Everybody asks me why I don’t send to bases like other coupon organizations,” says Almasy. “We like to ensure that everyone gets a fair amount of coupons. Other groups send big boxes that get placed at bases and either get picked through or get stored in the back where they get so old before they are discovered that they are unusable.”
It takes an army
In order to keep up with the demand of her new organization, Almasy remains knee-deep in coupons.
“My house is overflowing with coupons and envelopes and mail totes,” she says with a laugh. “I haven’t seen my dining room table in months.”
The stay-at-home mom stays busy tending to her 10-month old twins. You can imagine the energy that it takes to manage a flourishing organization while chasing two tots as they climb through mountains of coupons.
“I am so grateful for my volunteers,” says Almasy. “I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
With the help of an all-volunteer team, Almasy has developed a process that works well for now.
“You send me an envelope of your expired — or current — coupons,” she explains. “I thumb through them quickly and pull out the un-useable ones and throw the useable ones into one of my 20 gallon totes. I take these totes to the senior center where volunteers take them home and stuff envelopes. I pick them up and mail them to my list of families overseas. All 400 of them!”
Not stopping now
“You can imagine sending 400 envelopes that weigh a pound a piece,” says Almasy. “It’s getting expensive. It wasn’t so bad when I just had twenty-six. ‘Mr. Pockets’ was like ‘Oh sure, I’ll pay for that!’ Which he still is, but we need help.”
With a list of service members requesting coupons increasing at exponential rates, funding for postage is becoming a concern.
“I can’t turn these families away,” says Almasy. “I just can’t bring myself to say ‘No, I’m sorry, but I can’t afford it.’ See, I get choked up just thinking about it.”
“There are days that are scary and days that are stressful,” continues a tearful Almasy, “but I know why I am doing what I am doing and that’s what keeps me going.”
The ladies at the Winnabow Post Office get it too.
“At first, they’d laugh at me as soon as I’d enter the Post Office door,” says Almasy. “At how my mail was overflowing. I think, at first, it was a lot on them. But, one day, they noticed a manila envelope that had been mailed to me. A woman had put a picture on the back of the envelope. It was a picture of her son that was killed in action. It was then that the post office ladies said to me, ‘We get it now. We know exactly why you do what you do.’”
“And you know what?” Almasy says with a smile. “I’m not stopping now.”
How You Can Help
Sponsor a month’s mailing or donate a lump sum to help offset Coups for Troops postage expenses
Donate 9” x 12” manila envelopes for mailings
Volunteer your time for envelope stuffing
For More Information
Contact Stephanie Almasy via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or search for Coups for Troops: The Carolinas on Facebook.
Visit the website at www.coupsfortroops.com for details on how to donate — or how to receive — coupons.