The Parish of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Bethany Beach is seeking donations throughout the month of March for USO Delaware.
The parish asks for donations twice a year from the community. For this drive, they are requesting individually-packaged Slim Jims, individually-packaged crackers, individually-packaged breakfast bars and individually-packaged chips. Also needed are paper towels, 13-gallon trash bags and gallon-size zip-top freezer bags.
The outreach was started by parishioner Gigi Vanderman but is now headed up by Rosemary Wlaschin.
“She’s a lovely woman,” said Wlaschin of Vanderman. “She’s the one who instituted this program, something like 13 years ago. She just took it upon herself to do it. Her husband was an Air Force veteran, and she has children who have also served.
“She wanted to retire, and I said, ‘Yeah, I have military children myself, and I think it’s a wonderful idea.’ I was new to the area, moving here after retirement, looking for ways to volunteer, and this seemed like a really good fit.”
The donation idea was born out of a St. Ann’s women’s group called Sodality.
“Sodality is kind of the anchor that is bringing all of this together. It has a special devotion to our Blessed Mother, in addition to a community-service arm,” explained Wlaschin. “The women at St. Ann’s are the strongest, most faithful women I have had privilege of coming across… I feel very blessed I’ve been directed to this.”
Wlaschin said many use the USO wish list as a guideline for what they wish to donate to those who are serving in the armed forces.
“Then they give specific items accordingly, or they may also think, ‘I know for a fact that they could really use X, Y or Z.’ That is also wonderful, because, inevitably, it will be very purposeful and useful.”
Following the March 31 cutoff date for the donations, Wlaschin will contact USO Delaware and schedule a time for pick-up.
“They back right up, we load her up, and they take everything back up to Dover to them.”
USO Delaware is a nonprofit with a mission to support service members and their family members throughout the whole state of Delaware.
“We offer different morale-boosting programming from deployments to welcome-homes to different activities that we do throughout the year. It’s just lifting their spirits,” said Yolanda Bottorf, operations and programs manager for USO Delaware.
All funding raised goes into supporting services and programs offered through USO Delaware.
“We have a couple centers on Dover Air Force Base where we provide different kinds of snacks, beverages and areas where we have some TVs and a theater room and a pool table — just a place where service members can go to get away and have a good time and relax.”
Additionally, USO Delaware provides an area for the service members who conduct the dignified transfers of the fallen, as well as one for the families of the fallen.
“All the items that are collected from St. Ann’s go to those areas, as well as any time we have events like deployments or welcome-homes, it’s kind of like our USO on the go.”
Bottorf said because shipping is so costly, they do not often ship items overseas but do offer up the items to families sending packages to loved ones.
“At times, we have care-package builds, so family members can come to our centers, build a care package from all of the items we’ve collected from the community, and then they send those boxes out to their loved-ones.”
Wlaschin said that, when Vanderman first spearheaded the donation efforts, she went door to door to area businesses on Route 26, but these days, they simply ask that donations be dropped off at the church.
“We’ve been very blessed and have received boatloads of items. We’ve filled that van, I will tell you. We fill it to the brim. They’re masters of packing.”
Showing support to those serving overseas is paramount, said both Bottorf and Wlaschin.
“It’s super-important, because we have these women and men serving our country, at times away from home. Sometimes it may be their first station or first deployment. This just brings them a piece of home in connecting them to their families, their home and their country,” said Bottorf. “By providing that snack or bottle of water or game, it helps them stay connected to who they are, to their family, to their country.”
“The day that we can exist in peace in this world, and our military are just training at home and going home to their families at night, in their own little neck of the woods, then, I guess, it won’t be needed.
“But, until then, regrettably, with a big, heavy heart, this is something needed for our men and women. If we can help some of them out by having a nice clean toothbrush at a USO station airport or just a few snacks — anything that would make them think about home and make them feel a teensy bit comfortable for maybe 15 minutes or a half an hour — that’s worth it,” added Wlaschin. “Our military needs to know all the time that they’re missed back home, that we’re thinking about them and praying about them. We’re not going to forget them.”
Items should be brought to Delaney Hall at St. Ann’s Catholic Church, located at 651 Garfield Parkway, Bethany Beach. To learn more about USO Delaware, visit delaware.uso.org.