by Susan Mikula Campbell
The truck destined to carry needed items for wounded soldiers at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland later this month pulled away from the Wheatfield Community Center more than half full last Friday.
Plus, Cheryl Lepsch, founder of Jammies for GIs, had in hand $344.25 in cash donations.
That truck is expected to be totally full by the time it leaves Niagara County on Aug. 12, escorted by the American Legion Riders out American Legion Post 1451 in Wheatfield, as well as some of Western New York's Patriot Guard Riders.
Sam Reeder, director of the Legion Riders, said more items already collected by Lepsch are in a warehouse donated by Colvin Cleaners in Buffalo, and donations from other groups are still coming in.
"It was a tremendous success," Wheatfield Seniors Director Arlene Mante said of the collection at the Community Center. The collection got off to a slow start at first. "I was worried for a while," she admitted, but added that the article about the seniors' effort in the July 14 issue of the Niagara-Wheatfield Tribune made a big difference in the community's response.
"I'm overwhelmed with the donations they got, and it was so organized. They had tables set up so thing could be just dropped into bags," Lepsch said.
"This is hard work for them. They just all pitched in cheerfully," Reeder added.
One of the hardest workers was Sonja Shilanski, 82.
"I just wanted to do it. I was glad to do it," she said, explaining that her late husband was in the Army for 20 years and they had visited military hospitals here and overseas.
"We saw what the boys needed even back then," she said. "Every serviceman is glad to get something."
Lepsch started Jammies for GIs 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.
D & D Trucking of Buffalo is providing the truck for the trip. Among the businesses and groups donating to the Wheatfield Seniors collection were: Niagara Sheets, Western New York Dental (North Forest location), Smokin Joes, Summit Park Pharmacy, Lewiston Council on the Arts and the Dan Gemmer Family.
Jammies for GIs is continuing to accept donations. Needed are women's clothing and men's underwear or financial donations to buy still needed items. Call Lepsch at 695-6867 or email [email protected].