Community responded, expanded when our warriors were in need
by Chris Meek
What started as a very simple concept, to help our soldiers, has turned into one of the most remarkable things I have seen. Our community has embraced the efforts of SoldierStrong and as a result has had a direct impact on thousands of soldiers fighting abroad. The compassion and camaraderie our community has shown is something we should be proud of.
Earlier this summer a Marine friend of mine showed me a letter from a sergeant currently serving in Afghanistan. The letter had a simple request for his unit: basic toiletry items like tube socks and baby wipes. Things we take for granted. He states “The Marines are on the go “¦” and they have trouble with water to wash their socks and themselves. What a striking thought, the most fearsome warriors in history are lacking such basic and simple items.
Surely there has to be a way to get the men and women defending our individual freedoms the simple things they deserve. From that, SoldierStrong.com was created.
We reached out to local business owners asking for their assistance. Scott Wolak of the Hope Street Pharmacy, Ron and Tina Rosenfeld of the Athlete’s Foot in Ridgeway and High Ridge shopping centers, and Martin Mezza’s UPS Store in Norwalk all immediately offered to help when approached. These amazing neighbors have gone far above and beyond what anyone could have hoped or expected of them, especially considering the difficult financial times we are in. The Hope Street Pharmacy went so far as to create paper cutouts so store patrons could donate during their checkout.
Shipping these items to Afghanistan became the next hurdle. With the help of friends in the community, we were able to get a contact at Stewart Air Base in Newburgh, N.Y. Through the Air National Guard Unit and Marine Air Lift Unit 49, we are able to load the items onto a C-5 that then delivers the supplies to Afghanistan at no cost.
In September, we reached out to Stamford elementary schools asking if they would like to hold a drive for us. The response again was overwhelming. We collected 2,500 pounds of socks, wipes and sunscreen through the five weeks the schools held their various drives. The students wrote letters to our soldiers, drew pictures and decorated the collection boxes. They made this their project and made the Marine units a part of their family.
Aware of the school drives, parents approached us asking if they could hold drives at their places of business or places of worship. Congregation Agudath Sholom, Quinnipiac University, Western Connecticut State University, UConn, Fairfield University and Yale University will be holding drives over the next few months. The Stamford Police and Fire Departments have held drives and made donations. Peoples United Bank in Greenwich and Cos Cob, Long Ridge of Stamford and Holy Spirit Elementary School have all held drives. W&M . W&M Construction in Stamford, Advanced Physical Therapy of Connecticut and the seventh-grade “Rose Bowl” Champion Ridgefield Raiders football team have raised supplies for us. The Raiders even included their championship t-shirt, team photo and an autographed game ball that reads “To Our Real Heroes – Our MVP’s.”
The Capitol Building in Hartford will include a drive for SoldierStrong during their annual Holiday Veteran’s Drive in December. Dental Care Kids of Stamford has asked parents to bring in their extra Halloween candy to add to our shipments. Over 300 pounds of candy was included in our last shipment on Nov. 14.
There is a Facebook group in an effort to make people more aware of what we are trying to accomplish. Donations have come in from across the country – Boston to Michigan to California to Texas. We have recently been approached by a youth group in Spartanburg, S.C. to hold a drive for us. After a conversation with the woman we learned she is a regional officer for her church and responsible for 26 parishes throughout South Carolina. The churches’ 2010 Community Outreach program will be a drive for SoldierStrong.com.
Our “community” continues to grow. Our compassion as neighbors, as a country, continues to empower us and will enable us to work through the many issues we face today. Look at what we can do when we all work together toward a common goal. I would like to thank each and every student, teacher, parent and professional who have taken the time to share something with our troops. The impressive accomplishment isn’t merely the number of shipments or the size of those shipments; rather it is the ingenuity and resourcefulness of those helping. As each person finds a way to make this their own cause, we become stronger and more people are helped. Without the work of our schools and parents we wouldn’t have the drives, without a concerned woman from South Carolina we wouldn’t be in 26 churches and without thoughtful small business owners we wouldn’t have accessed the point of sale.
I can’t be more proud to be a part of something so dynamic that causes such an impact and involves so many people of such diverse ages, races, religions and locations. Truly this is the best of all of us coming out. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of something so special.
I personally would like to thank my wonderful wife Christine and very good friends Mike Duggan, Frank and Maria Lovello for their tireless efforts in helping to deliver the necessary boxes and signage at the various drive sights and picking up the tons of supplies you have all generously donated.
Thank you to everyone for your compassion and commitment to our troops.
God Bless the U.S. Armed Forces.
Chris Meek is a Stamford resident.