Rita Christopher spent hours putting together holiday gift boxes at the McLean American Legion Post 270 for soldiers she doesn't know. Her husband is a veteran, so she knows the importance of supporting the troops during wartime. She also knows that next month her son, a surgeon, will be heading off to Iraq.
Post 270 members have been thinking about Christmas for months now. They haven't been dreaming of the gifts theyÕd like to receive, but rather what tokens of comfort they can offer to injured soldiers this holiday season.
Marian Chirichella spearheaded Post 270's effort to fill and wrap 150 gift boxes for injured soldiers recovering at Walter Reed hospital. She and a dozen volunteers, including Christopher, gathered at the post this week to create and wrap presents that will be given to the soldiers at a Christmas morning brunch. Items included in the boxes range from disposable cameras and journals to candy and small hand-held games.
Chirichella and her husband have become intimately aware of what this new generation of veterans needs during their numerous weekly visits to the military hospital. "We go bedside and talk to the soldiers each week to see what their needs are. It's ongoing, adapting to their needs," said Chirichella.
"It's a whole collection of things we know the kids consume," said Chirichella. "The phone cards allow them to stay in contact with their friends and family. That connection keeps morale up and enhances their healing."
"WE ARE DOING THIS for the troops so they will have a happy Christmas," said Christopher. Volunteer Betty Quinn said, "Our husbands are veterans. The American Legion wants to show its support for the new veterans. We have the mechanism to support them collectively."
Next on Chirichella's Christmas list is collecting a small cache of toys to be given out to the children of the soldiers convalescing at Walter Reed. "We're doing gifts for the children that stay here while their mom or dad is here. There are even more kids that come visit on Christmas, and we want them to have something that day," said Chirichella.
In the next few days, she will be getting a detailed list that will rival Santa's, giving her information about each child so that a fitting gift can be collected. "If it's a 6-month-old, say, we will get something from Fisher Price," said Chirichella.
Members of Post 270 have generously donated the items to be boxed up and cash to help purchase some additional items. Officials at the Post are hoping this holiday season members of the community will step up and help in their effort by donating toys for the children of the men and women who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's a nice way of saying the entire community cares about you," said Chirichella about the holiday gifts. "It's nice to know that America supports you. This demonstrates that."
As Quinn filled box after box with goodies, she said, "I can't think of anything more important than helping the wounded new veterans or their families."
It's an effort that the Post makes throughout the year, not just during the holidays. Through the Angels of Mercy program, gifts and creature comforts are given to returning veterans throughout the year. The soldiers recovering at Walter Reed often stay there for months. Once their condition is stabilized, they are moved out of the hospital ward and into dormitories within walking distance of rehabilitation and medical services.
Chirichella recently gave out coats and scarves to soldiers who were walking in the cold and rain from their dorms to physical therapy at the hospital. "Angels of Mercy is year-round. That provides clothing and personal items for the soldiers. We also bring clothing and groceries to the families of the soldiers staying at Fisher House [on the Walter Reed campus]. We bring things to as many different niches of where the soldiers are to provide comfort." said Chirichella.
One soldier recently contacted her from Iraq after hearing about Angels of Mercy. As a reservist stationed overseas, he wanted to make sure that his corporation back home donated to that organization because the gift would be used around the year to benefit those serving in the military.
To arrange to donate toys for the children of injured soldiers or to make a monetary donation; contact Marian Chirichella at 703-938-3572 or via e-mail at Auxiliary270VAR@aol.com.