Bigelow puts on tea time for the troops
By Rita Papazian
Posted: 08/14/2009

Three friends who were in the 1978 graduating class of Staples High School have come together thirty years later to share their talents and skills to bring a little bit of "home" to the troops fighting wars on foreign soil.

When Cindi Bigelow, president of Bigelow Tea, headquartered on Black Rock Turnpike in Fairfield, joined staffers in creating a project to show that the people back home are remembering the military soldiers protecting this country's freedoms, she called upon her two high school buddies, Duke Saltus, a painter and graphic artist, and Jeff Hill, regional vice president of the USO (United Service Organizations) to help her with the project.

R.C. Bigelow, Inc., a company founded by Cindi Bigelow's paternal grandmother Ruth Campbell Bigelow in 1945, is shipping two million tea bags, packaged in 100,000 custom-designed boxes to troops in the far corners of the world. Bigelow's American Classic Tea is from the company's own 127-acre Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island, just south of Charleston, S.C. The Bigelow family purchased the tea plantation, which is open to the public, in 2003. The American Classic tea was wrapped and packaged in a Bigelow manufacturing plant in Louisville, Ky.

"We wanted to bring a little bit of warmth and a touch of home," said Bigelow, in a telephone conversation last week. She recalled that she had recently been standing in an airport in Atlanta next to three soldiers when a couple came up to the soldiers to thank them for their service to the country. She said the soldiers appeared really touched by the expression of gratitude from two strangers. Observing that brief interaction between the two strangers and the soldiers brought home the importance of the role the military plays and the importance of folks back home acknowledging the role.

Bigelow said it was appropriate to send the tea to the soldiers since the tea comes from the largest commercial growers in the U.S. and is a gesture of "from our soil to yours," said Bigelow, noting the tea would be delivered to soldiers in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The custom-designed boxes of the American Classic Tea are packaged only for the troops and not available for sale in those boxes. The American Classic Tea continues to be available in markets near its southern plantation.

The beautifully designed box of 20 tea bags, offers a patriotic, red, white and blue graphic set against a beige background with an image of a white tea cup with the tea bag label sporting portions of the American flag. On the side of the box a ribbon of red, white and blue includes the words, "Thank You For Your Service." Beneath the box a message reads: Bigelow is proud to serve those who serve our country.

A message on the side of the box offers an expression of appreciation from the Bigelow family and all the employees at Bigelow Tea for the military's "hard work and commitment to making the world a safer place."

Designer Saltus, a life-long Westport resident, designed the box with another Staples graduate Doug Connor (Class of 1980) of Madison, with whom he has partnered on other commissioned work.

The Bigelow project brought special meaning for Saltus whose son Jake, served in the military from 2004 and 2007. He completed two tours of duty in Iraq and Saltus said fortunately his son returned safely.

Saltus recalled the years during his son's duty when he would send home photos of his serving in Iraq. "You tend to become very patriotic"¦He saw a lot of action."

USO Vice President Hill is no stranger to military service. He served in the special operations division for the Navy for 20 years and for the past seven years for the USO, a congressionally chartered, private, nonprofit organization. A bridge between the general public and the military, the USO relies on the generosity of individuals and corporations to support USO activities.

Hill said while many individuals and organizations want to donate goods to the troops "getting things to the front is difficult. I know how to get things moved," said the Staples graduate, who now lives in Virginia. That is why when Bigelow came up with the idea, she called her good friend to help her get the boxes of tea to the troops. Hill said the 100,000 boxes of tea will be shipped to 135 USO centers worldwide and distributed to the soldiers. Some of the tea he said would be re-packaged in large USO-To-Go containers and bundled with other donated goods for the troops. 

"The troops love tea," said Hill, describing his long-time high school friend as "an incredible individual"¦very smart, a real worker." 

Hill said, "It's been a while since I've been in Westport. I've been out seeing the world."