Veterans Tabatha Maddox, left, Jeffrey Saunders, center, and Joshua Ellis with the Goldenwest College Student Veteran Organization put together gift packages to send to troops overseas at the school last Thursday. (SCOTT SMELTZER, HB Independent / December 18, 2012)

Matt Muggia, a U.S. Marine veteran, remembers the disappointment he felt when he was deployed overseas, opened up a care package and thought he spotted a package of Oreos. But they weren't really Oreos. They were a knock-off brand.

"I was totally grateful when I got a package, but nothing made me more mad than getting a knock-off Oreo," said Muggia, president of Golden West College's Service Veteran Organization. "I was like, 'Are you kidding me?'"

Muggia made sure only the best made its way into the 30 to 40 holiday care packages that were prepared and shipped to Army and Marine units in Afghanistan by Golden West's SVO. The group made sure the packages were mailed to outlying areas that rarely receive items throughout the year.

There were no knock-offs to be found in the boxes filled with Jack Links beef jerky, Doritos, Famous Amos cookies, Tapatio hot sauce, Cheez-It, David sunflower seeds, and of course Oreos, that were put together in the school's criminal justice training center Thursday afternoon during finals week.

"What better person to give a care package than a veteran? We know what they need," Muggia said. "You want something good that reminds you ofhometo escape — where every bite you take makes you forget where you are for a second.'"

Inside the packages, recipients will also find a book, movie, body warmer, socks and a hand-written note from a Golden West College student.

"We do it to let them know there are people — not just their families, random churches or little kids writing letters — thinking about them," said Golden West SVO Vice President Tabatha Maddox.

The Golden West SVO raised $600 through a series of fundraisers on campus and donations from Golden West staff and faculty to purchase the care-package items from Barnes & Noble, Costco and Smart & Final.

It marks the change the veteran's organization at Golden West underwent this year, taking an active role on campus.

"At first we were known as a meet-up group and not an official club, but because of our participation in on-campus activities, we've reestablished ourselves as a legitimate club," Golden West SVO Treasurer Jeffrey Saunders said.

The organization still helps veterans transition to civilian life and a collegiate setting, and now is looking to get more involved on campus. It's working with Golden West to try to get Marine Corp Institute classes accredited in California, helping state veterans make the most of their GI bill. The organization is also looking to begin an escort program on campus in which veterans will accompany fellow students, faculty or staff back to their cars at night.

"It touches your heart," said Golden West President Wes Bryan as he watched his student veterans put together the care packages Thursday. "They themselves have been through so much and they're connecting back with people who they know are experiencing the same things they were. It's pretty cool, they gave forward and now they're giving back."

The hope is that the care packages will get to Afghanistan soon, but that's far from guaranteed because of how the military's mail system works abroad, Muggia said. They could get there before Christmas or any time next year, but whether the care packages arrive in December or June, Muggia knows they'll bring a bit of the holidays with them.

"Care packages are like Christmas, that's exactly what care packages are," he said. "They're going to love these packages. I can't wait until they open them because I remember myself how it felt."

To get involved in the Golden West SVO, visit the Veterans Resource Center on campus or call 714-895-8140.

andrew.shortall@latimes.com

Twitter: @TCNShortall