Volunteers, cash needed for airport USO project
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
A holiday project that shows local’s appreciation for military personnel is returning and expanding.
Project originator and Rancho Bernardan Reed Reichert said organizers are hoping to distribute through San Diego International Airport’s USO Center 3,500 bags filled with snack foods to traveling military members during the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas. To do so they need to raise at least $25,000 and recruit volunteers of all ages to fill bags.
The project, dubbed San Diego Waves of Appreciation, started last year. The goal was to provide 2,000 bags, but $21,000 in donations provided supplies for 2,500. Despite exceeding the goal, Reichert said the USO ran out of bags four days before Christmas.
“We were short about 700 bags,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate we ran out,” Reichert added. “There was no way to get more because we did not have extra money.”
Each cinch-style fabric bag was filled with treats that appeal to young service members, such as candy bars, beef jerky, potato chips and other snack foods. The goal was to provide them with snacks while traveling for the holidays since young military members often do not have extra money for food during their journeys home.
Reichert got the idea after seeing military personnel counting their pennies outside the airport’s McDonald’s in order to purchase food and during a brief conversation when traveling from San Diego to Minneapolis.
“I was sitting next to a young Marine that looked scared to death,” he said when interviewed by the Rancho Bernardo News Journal last year. “He asked if I know if any food would be served (on the flight) because he had not eaten in nine hours.”
Reichert said, “It’s not right that they have to (count their pennies to buy food)” and the philanthropic effort is “a small effort on our part to alleviate (the problem).”
“Spending hours in airports and on airplanes traveling home for the holidays can be stressful enough for our military and it’s made even worse by hunger pangs,” said Bobby Woods, director of the USO Center at the airport. “We saw a lot of happy faces (when the bags were distributed).”
Exceeding last year’s goal is largely due to Rancho Bernardans — individuals, companies and service clubs — embracing the project after last year’s newspaper article, Reichert said.
Thus far, organizations involved with this year’s effort are Genentech, Farmers Insurance District 51, Knights of Columbus at San Rafael Catholic Church, Rancho Bernardo Lady Lions, Wells Fargo Investment Advisors, Xybernet and Pepperdine University Alumni Association. The latter was the first group to back Reichert last year and became the inspiration for the project’s name. For its efforts, Pepperdine presented it the university’s national award for top service project.
To purchase and fill the bags before Thanksgiving, Reichert said the $25,000 needs to be raised by Oct. 15. The food will be purchased in early November and packed on Nov. 11 at the USO’s downtown San Diego facility.
The packing is where volunteers come into play. Reichert said last year they ranged in age from 6 or 7 to some in their 80s. Filling the bags in assembly line fashion turned into a contest and more than 80 volunteers completed the task within 90 minutes.
In all, Reichert said 365 volunteers were involved in the effort over 10 days, contributing a combined 1,228 volunteer hours.
To donate, send a check payable to “USO San Diego” with “food bag project” written on the memo line, to USO San Diego Downtown Center, c/o Ginger Csizmadi, 303 A St., Suite 100, San Diego, CA 92101. To volunteer, contact Reichert at 858-705-8118 or email@example.com.
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