by Susan Mikula Campbell
Donations are starting to pile up at the Wheatfield Community Center.
There's underwear, T-shirts, socks, toothpaste, toothbrushes playing cards, gum and candy - all destined for wounded U.S. soldiers at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.
However, Arlene Mante, Town of Wheatfield senior director, is starting to get concerned.
"We sure could use a lot more," she said. "We thought this would be a good place for the Wheatfield residents to bring things in."
So far, the donations have all come from her seniors, and she's hoping the rest of the community will get involved by the time the seniors help the American Legion Riders pack the truck for Jammies for GIs on Friday, July 29.
The project started when Mante was talking with Sam Reeder, a guest at the Wheatfield Seniors' recent 40th anniversary dinner. Reeder, director of the American Legion Riders out American Legion Post 1451 in Wheatfield, was talking about how his group escorted a truck filled with 12,000 pounds of donations to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in northern Washington, D.C., last year for Jammies for GIs.
Jammies for GIs was started by Tonawanda resident Cheryl Lepsch after her own son was taken to a military hospital in Germany with a lung ailment and she learned how wounded soldiers were evacuated from war zones without their personal items and sometimes with only the clothing on their backs.
"I said, 'Hey, I'd like to get the seniors involved in that," Mante said.
The seniors are excited about the project. Some of them have children in the armed services and some are World War II veterans, Mante said. "They know what it's about."
The seniors volunteered to not only collect items, but also help stuff Jammie Packs and get them in the truck. They also plan to send greeting cards for the wounded soldiers.
Mante said items donated have to be new, not used, and can include anything a soldier might need, from sweatpants to phone cards.
"We haven't gotten too much for the women yet. Sometimes, they're forgotten," she added, pointing out that female soldiers also need items.
Reeder said other groups and organizations in addition to the Wheatfield Seniors are collecting items to help fill the truck. Soffe Athletic Equipment in Buffalo has donated 200 pairs of sweatpants, and Reeder is hoping the Canal Fest organizers in North Tonawanda will once again donate Canal Fest T-shirts.
"Last year, we ran into a kid from Hamburg and he was tickled pink to get a T-shirt from the Canal Fest," Reeder said.
The Legion Riders are hoping to have at least 10,000 pounds of clothing and other items to deliver to Bethesda when they leave on Friday, Aug. 12. So far, 25 people and 18 motorcycles will make the trip, leaving from the Wheatfield Legion Post on Ward Road at about 8 a.m., stopping at the Salamanca Legion to pick up more donations, then meeting an escort of riders from DuBois, Pa., who will escort the local riders to their city. The group will spend the night at a hotel in Bethesda, then go to the hospital the next morning. They make the return ride on Sunday, Aug. 14.
Reeder said four of the Buffalo Jills are expected to join the Legion Riders in a chase car.
"That will help cheer the guys up, I think!" Reeder said. He clarified that he meant the young soldiers at the hospital, but added laughing, "that will do us old guys no harm either."
Lepsch and representatives of Blue Star Mothers also are expected to join the trip.
The Legion Riders now plan to make escorting a Jammies for GIs truck to a military hospital an annual event.
Last year, as they left Walter Reed after distributing the items from the truck, they turned around and saw more soldiers being brought in.
"No matter what, these kids need this stuff," Reeder said.
•The Jammies for GIs truck is expected to arrive at the Wheatfield Community Center, 2790 Church Road, next to Wheatfield Town Hall, at about 11 a.m. on July 29. Plans are in the works to also sell hot dogs for $1 to help pay for gas for the truck. Donations also can be dropped off at the Community Center from 9 a.m. to noon Monday to Thursday. For more information, call Gail at 694-8504.