December 3rd was a day to grant wishes, the wishes of veterans who have bravely served our country and are now residing or receiving treatment at the Northport VA Medical Center. The Manhasset American Legion Auxiliary asked for assistance to make it a joyous holiday for our veterans and the help came in abundance.
Boy Scouts from Troop 97 and Pack 101 and Girl Scouts from Troops 527, 545, and 556 sat in the cold outside of Raindew which willingly supported the effort to provide our veterans with a memorable holiday season. Manager John Hults said, “We can never forget them and we’re proud to support our local veterans.” The Scouts made signs requesting monetary donations that would be used to purchase items on the “Veterans’ Wish List” and greeted each customer as they informed them of the project.
While that was happening, other Scouts, students, and American Legion Auxiliary and community members were in the American Legion Hall writing Christmas cards and making paper doily angels to adorn the packages. Donations of toiletries, new clothing and Christmas ornaments arrived so volunteers began the long process of categorizing articles and putting clothing in size order. Care to Knit donated a dozen handmade lap robes. Local dentists, Dr. Harvey Passes and Dr. Steven Kornhaber, donated hundreds of toothbrushes, boxes of toothpaste, Polident and various dental hygiene products. Our young volunteers made individual packages of these and the toiletries.
Everyone was introduced to an organization that was familiar to some but is now known to many more, Ace in the Hole Foundation. Just before Thanksgiving, American Legion Auxiliary President, Pat O’Brien, received a call from Greg LiCalzi, Jr., President of Ace in the Hole Foundation, inquiring about the mission of the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary. After a lengthy discussion, both realized that their organizations had many common goals. Greg and his Dad, also Greg, founded the Ace in the Hole Foundation following the death of Greg’s twin brother, Mike. 1st LT Michael LiCalzi USMC lost his life in May 2006 while serving our country in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Mike was a member of the 2d Tank Battalion, 2d Marine Division. The Battalion’s slogan is “Ace in the Hole.” Greg and his Dad decided to turn their grief into a tribute to Mike’s bravery and sacrifice and to assist others through their charitable organization, Ace in the Hole Foundation. On “Giving Tuesday,” just prior to the collection on December 3rd, Greg, Jr. sent a message to the Foundation’s followers asking for donations. The response was tremendous and Greg took the donations, shopped, and provided more than $900 of items on the “Wish List” for the veterans. They also visited the Scouts at Raindew and gave them each a medal to remember Mike and to thank them for the work they were doing that day. They did the same for everyone working at the Legion Hall. Our youth experienced firsthand, up close and personally, the message that we have all been trying to teach, “Freedom is not free.”
As the day continued, the generosity of the Manhasset community increased. The donations were immediately turned into items on the “Wish List.” The staff at Raindew showed amazing patience as they helped search for the veterans’ requests and as items worth many hundreds of dollars were paid for with dollar bills and change! The elves were busily wrapping at the Legion Hall and it became apparent that additional days were needed both to finish shopping and to complete the wrapping. Manhasset’s youth and American Legion Auxiliary members remained undaunted and willingly agreed to come back on two other occasions to complete the task.
When finished, 193 individual gift bags had been prepared for our veterans. There were many boxes of toiletries and decorations remaining which were also donated. The gifts were valued at more than $5,000. Three SUVs were filled on December 19th with only enough remaining room in each for the driver. When the little caravan reached the Northport VA Medical Center, the volunteers were greeted with hugs and looks of total amazement. There were actually tears in the eyes of the staff accepting the donations. It was extremely heartwarming that they were tears of joy in a location where tears are too often shed in sorrow. Santa and his helpers arrived the next day to distribute to the veterans these and all the other generous donations that had been received from all over Long Island.
Thank you to each of you who contributed to such a huge outpouring of support for our men and women who have served our great country with no thought of self. May you be blessed a hundredfold as we begin a new year.