BRENTWOOD — Sometimes small acts of kindness can unleash a torrent of good deeds.
Consider the case of Ed McClelland.
The 49-year-old Brentwood man would have others believe he's just a blue-collar guy who works hard and tries to do right by his son as a single dad.
And that much is true.
But McClelland also is the driving force behind an outreach that's provided more than 700 U.S. troops overseas with tangible reminders that a grateful country hasn't forgotten them.
"It's great what other people do, but it's not nearly enough," he said. "There are plenty of soldiers out there that get nothing."
About 18 months ago, McClelland launched a mission to support soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and other points by sending packages of edible treats and other items that are difficult or impossible to come by at military outposts there.
The initial inspiration for the project wasn't born from personal experience — McClelland has never served in the military — but rather from a chance encounter with a Vietnam veteran more than a decade earlier while McClelland was attending a rally for American troops in Sacramento.
The veteran wept as he recalled three buddies who had gone to war with him but not returned, and the poignancy of the moment impressed upon McClelland the need to support those serving the United States overseas.
McClelland eventually started buying snack foods and sending them to Washington state, where someone he had found online was collecting donations for the military.
In late 2008, he got the names of service personnel from a similar contact on the East Coast and began mailing care packages directly to Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq.
In addition to looking for sales on Pop Tarts, pistachios and trail mix, McClelland found a Manteca farmer who sold him bags of almonds for less than half the retail price.
When he e-mailed one online business in Clearwater, Fla., to ask for a donation of granola, the owner responded by posting his cause on her website.
An Oregon natural foods business shipped five cases of its muesli cereal to a soldier in Afghanistan and the same number to an Air Force chaplain in Kuwait. And a customer McClelland was building a dock for used his connections to donate about 500 boxes of popcorn.
After learning that some military dogs used for mine sweeping needed bedding and toys, McClelland contacted a pet accessories company in Ohio, which sent the supplies to Afghanistan.
As word of the project has spread, others have jumped on the bandwagon: Barnes & Noble donated four boxes of paperback books, Walmart provided antibacterial wipes, and a Discovery Bay dentist offered a half-dozen boxes of toothpaste and floss.
Individuals have contributed toiletries that include unisex skin care products, and they remember McClelland during trips to the grocery store.
A recent shipment included graham crackers, corn nuts, Chex mix and potato chips along with powdered Kool-Aid and Gatorade.
There also have been backgammon games, decks of playing cards, Sunday comics from local newspapers and issues of Field & Stream as well as magazines for muscle car and motorcycle enthusiasts.
A San Mateo real estate investor McClelland has met only once decided to send him $250 every time he sold a house; so far, the man has given about $1,500.
A veteran friend of McClelland periodically will write a check for $200 or more ("Veterans are great — they just hand me money"); another war vet once paid the postage for 100 care packages at $12.50 each.
A couple dozen boxes go out each week to some of the names McClelland has on his eight-page list of contacts, and so far just one has come back.
He showed a visitor a slightly battered-looking package that bore the label "DECEASED": Its intended recipient was a 24-year-old mother of two who had been killed six months earlier when her convoy was attacked.
The effort has become nearly all-consuming despite the help McClelland now gets from members of Creekside Christian Church in packaging the goods.
Working alongside the adults is McClelland's 11-year-old son, Joseph, who pens "God bless you" on the box flaps.
Another stalwart volunteer is Bob Dickson, who has attended all six sessions of "Operation Creekside."
He and his wife spent their 19th anniversary Tuesday on the assembly line: Bob checked that the boxes were full and taped them shut while Sheri labeled them.
Others fill out the forms for U.S. Customs.
At the start of each meeting, everyone prays for the recipients.
McClelland's ministry has taken off because he's wholly dedicated to the welfare of others — there's no ego in the equation, Dickson said.
"There's a lot of people who go to church on Sundays, and that's as far as their walk goes. That does not describe Ed whatsoever," he said. "He takes the message we receive on Sunday "... and walks it for the whole seven days."
That desire to perform acts of kindness for strangers who more often than not don't respond is a change from the old Ed, adds Burt Broussard, who's gotten to know McClelland over the past several years as his sponsor in an alcoholism-recovery program.
"He's totally slipped from being self-centered to putting others first. He's done a 180," he said.
Many service members have contacted McClelland after receiving a package, and he has plastered their photos and notes of gratitude all over a wall at home.
"When you give without expectations," he said, "the blessings come back tenfold."
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141.
Hometown Heroes, a partnership between Bay Area News Group-East Bay and Comcast, celebrates people in the Bay Area who make a difference in their communities. In addition to highlighting remarkable individuals, the Hometown Heroes feature aims to encourage volunteerism, raise visibility of nonprofits and key causes in the area and create a spirit of giving.
Read about a new Hometown Hero every other Monday and watch the program on Comcast On Demand at Channel One-Get Local-Hometown Heroes.
Do you know a Hometown Hero? Let us know about the work they do at HometownHeroes@bayareanewsgroup.com.
After two tours of duty in Iraq, San Ramon resident Chris Clark is enrolled at Diablo Valley College and writing about his experiences. Page D1