On Friday, Aug. 20, members of the Wheatfield Post American Legion Riders will escort Cheryl Lepsch of Jammies for GIs and a 24-foot Penske truck loaded with clothing and personal items directly to wounded troops at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
Jammies for GIs is a Tonawanda-based charity founded by Cheryl Lepsch after her son returned needing medical care after serving in the U.S. Marines. Upon learning that many military wounded must go for days or weeks without basic necessities, she began sending anything she could directly to military hospitals and installations all over the country and the world. What began as a small effort soon grew into a network of grassroots groups pitching in from all over Western New York.
"When they are medevaced from the field, he or she is brought directly to field hospitals and then military hospitals without their clothing and essential items," said Lepsch. "It may be weeks before they can receive clean underwear or change of clothes. Jammies has received tremendous support from everyone that hears that our troops are in need. Even the Penske truck was donated by Double Down Truck & Repair to deliver the items to Andrews."
The American Legion Riders of the Wheatfield Post 1451 on Ward Road in Wheatfield heard about Jammies' need to find a way to ship the donations to the troops, so they set up fundraisers and raffles. This soon developed into the opportunity to put together a ride escort and hand-deliver the items to Fisher House on Andrews AFB. In order to be able to enter the base, however, they had to complete a special Motorcycle Safety Certification class through MAC Street Rider at Niagara County Community College.
Sam Reeder, president of the Greater Niagara Region American Legion Riders, asked the membership to adopt Jammies for GIs and to help find a way to directly help the wounded get what they needed.
"Cheryl came to one of our meetings and described what happens to our military, both male and female, when they are injured on the battlefield and their journey home. We decided to pinpoint a concerted effort to go right to where we could have the most direct effect," Reeder said. "The Legion Riders didn't even hesitate and got involved right away. In all, we found that our efforts have been small in comparison to what our troops are doing for us."
The Legion Riders set up a dice run in June, raising money through a variety of fundraisers and other efforts. They have raised more than $2,800 in cash and accumulated an assortment of items, including pillows from Walmart, slippers from the Cave of the Winds, T-shirts from the Tonawanda Canal Fest and jackets from West Herr Ford. Colvin Cleaners even donates warehouse space to Jammies for GIs to store the items until they are shipped.
Wounded American military are processed through the 779th Aero-medical Staging Facility at Andrews before being sent to hospitals all around the country. Fisher House helps the troops get the essential personal items they need as they process through within 24 to 48 hours.
This Friday's ride will depart from the American Legion and proceed to the American Legion Post 535 in Salamanca, where they will be greeted by police and fire department escort and an honor guard by the local Boy Scouts. The escort will be joined by the American Legion Riders of DuBois, Pa., Post 17 to ride to DuBois. At Hollidaysburg, Pa., they will be joined by that post's new rider group, then they depart for Everett, Pa., American Legion Post 8, before heading on to Legion Post 211 in Funkstown, Md., where they will stop for the night. Each of these posts are providing snacks and water to the riders in addition to the clothing and monetary donations they have raised.
On Saturday morning, Walter Sarafin, president of the board of directors for Fisher House, is meeting the riders at their hotel in Hagerstown, Md., to bring them the last leg onto Andrews AFB. The day will be spent delivering the clothing to Fisher House and learning how to continue to help in any way they can.