Many Rockland residents know of a soldier or two who are overseas fighting to protect our country, but know little of how to help from so far away. Fortunately, there's a local organization that bridges families and friends to their troops.
On April 2, at the Pearl River Elks the Andy K and Friends Charitable Foundation held their second annual Support The Troops Day. Gathered at the Pearl River Elks were about 70 friends, family and supporters who volunteered their morning to help package supplies that were donated for our troops.
What this huge undertaking entailed was at least 15 tables filled with items such as food, drinks, dental, sanitizers, baby wipes, CD's, DVD's and thank you letters from school children, just to name a few of the items.
When first walking into the room, it may seem overwhelming how many supplies need to get packed. Once the packing began it became somewhat of an organized chaos. In about one hour, everything was packaged. This year, over 235 boxes were sent. An unbelievable feat that the members of this foundation attributes to it's dedicated, committed, and heartfelt supporters.
"The most amazing thing to me was how fast everything was done. You can attribute that to the large number of caring volunteers who graciously gave up the first nice Saturday in quite some time to lend a hand," said Billy Fortescue. "Can’t thank them, or the Elks who hosted us, enough. Nothing makes me more proud to be an American than the sacrifices our soldiers are willing to make to keep us safe. On days like Saturday, when I see how much our friends and neighbors want to help the soldiers in any small way they can, it makes me feel so lucky to raise my kids in the community I do, and I feel so proud of how much everyone cares."
Most of the items were donated beforehand which helped keep a tally on how many items needed to get packaged and how many boxes and labels were necessary. On Saturday more donations were dropped off but the volunteers were ready for it.
“I think a ‘Support the Troops Day’ is a great way for us, as a community, to show our military men and women stationed overseas how much we love them and appreciate their sacrifices," said Phil Murphy. "We owe these men and women everything. They are the very best of what this country has to offer. They stepped forward and put their fellow Americans before themselves. They serve selflessly, risking their lives, knowing that most of us will never know their names and that they will never receive the recognition they truly deserve. But they do it anyway. What greater sacrifice is there?"
As the boxes started to pile up they were brought outside the building where a handful of teenage volunteers packed up the cars which headed straight to the West Nyack post office. Fortunately the post office was aware that they were about to be inundated, thanks to Heather Fortescue who prepped the post office workers the day before while picking up the shipping labels.
"The West Nyack post office staff not only sponsors their own troop overseas but has graciously taken the time out, for the last two years, to stay after hours and help us with shipping out our boxes," said Heather Fortescue. "It is a long and time consuming process. But more importantly it is a testament, not only to their hard work, but the loyalty and appreciation the citizens of this country feel for the sacrifice our men and women overseas make each and everyday. Our Support the Troops Day would not be as successful without them."
What was also very impressive about the day was the number of kids who were there volunteering with their parents. Giving back to those who sacrifice for our safety is a great message to share with kids. The range of ages was from toddlers to teenagers, all of whom seemed to really enjoy the excitement of the morning and each others company.
“I read recently that less than 1 percent of the population currently serves in uniform. This article discussed the sacrifices and struggles of the military and their families and the growing sense of isolation that they feel from the rest of the population," said Murphy. "The grim reality is that America is at war. It is very easy to forget that and get caught up in our own lives. I know there are times when I, unfortunately, have done that. Therefore, the ‘Support the Troops Day’ is more than just sending care packages to the brave men and women overseas. It is a way for us to show how truly thankful we are for their sacrifice. It is a message to those fighting overseas that they are not forgotten back home. We can never repay these men and women for all that they have done for us, but we hope this small token of our appreciation conveys to them the message that they are in our thoughts and prayers. God bless them all.”
In addition, 'female' boxes were packaged to suit the needs of the women fighting for our country.
"Desired items can be scarce for women who serve overseas. The volunteers and donors were sure not to forget our female soldiers sending over a dozen boxes of female comfort items and supplies," said Ali Orlando.
At the end of the day a total of 238 boxes were sent to seven different forward military bases in the Middle East. Each box representing a little bit of 'home' for the troops. Kerri McBride is a proud volunteer of Andy K and Friends:
"The Andy K and Friends Board of Directors, supporters, and beneficiaries continue to be amazed by the outpouring of support from so many people. This particular event attracted donors and volunteers of all ages to be a part of something bigger than themselves. When organizing any event you fret over its success. This year's Support Our Troops Day was not only a huge success, but it exceeded our expectations. We are so excited for our soldiers to receive these packages to see how much they are appreciated. The needed supplies, the letters from students and notes of appreciation will hopefully boost their morale and make their days a bit brighter. The Andy K and Friends Charitable Organization is proud of its work in helping those in need. In addition, the Organization values and appreciates the freedoms we enjoy, and Troops Day helps all of us to remember and be thankful."
This was only the second event held of it's kind and the response from the community was enormous.
"An outpouring of volunteers and an amazing amount of donations allowed the Troops Day to be successful; the individuals and families who took this as an opportunity to show their pride in our soldiers and country made the day laudable," said Orlando.