From February 1 to February 14, 2012, the United War Veterans Council (UWVC) brought Valentines gifts and gratitude to veterans and military service members from West Point to Washington, D.C. This year’s effort — our largest series of Goodwill Valentines Caravans to date — culminated in our first-ever visit to the new Walter Reed National Military Hospital in Bethesda, MD.
The mission of the Goodwill Valentines Caravans is to bring love, cheer, and goodwill to those who served and sacrificed (and to their families) in the form of Valentine’s Day cards and gifts.
According to UWVC Executive Director Pat Gualtieri, “We found out a few years ago that the troops and veterans received a good amount of support and attention during the holiday season and on Memorial Day, Veterans Day and the other patriotic holidays.
“But then, a chaplain told us that Valentine’s Day was often a lonely time for many of them, especially those recovering in military and veterans hospitals. So, we started the first Goodwill Valentines Caravan to show them they were loved, appreciated, and certainly not forgotten. And it’s just grown from there.”
UWVC team members and volunteers spent the month of January gathering cards and presents for our service members and veterans and assembling gift bags and baskets to be delivered to military and veteran facilities throughout the area.
UWVC Team Member Jeff Swansen (U.S. Navy Veteran) spent countless hours organizing the complex logistics of multiple caravans and deliveries, while the mother-daughter team of Kelly and Jessica Bryan coordinated the stuffing of gift bags and the assembly of baskets, assisted by volunteers from the Samaritan Village Veterans Program and numerous other helping hands. Marleen “Molly” Levi, the UWVC’s head of volunteers, remarked, “this event is so easy to mobilize volunteers – everyone wants to participate in sharing this message of unconditional love with our troops and veterans.”
The outpouring of support for the initiative was tremendous. We received tee shirts, hats, DVDs, toiletries, candy, cookies, lollipops, apparel, music, books, stationery, teddy bears, bicycles and more. In addition to contributions from dozens of individuals, our friends at HBO, U-Haul, the History Channel, the NY Daily News, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club provided boxes and boxes of gifts and goodies. Volunteers from Bank of America and the Municipal Bond Women’s Club joined local school children in creating thousands of handmade Valentine’s cards. Students at the Richard H. Hungerford School for Disabled Children even donated their own hand-assembled bicycles to the children of recovering servicemembers. (See photos of our preparations)
A secondary collection point was even established at Engeline’s Restaurant in Queens, set up by UWVC member Ed Bergendahl (U.S. Navy, Korea), and serving as a staging point for deliveries to the St. Alban’s VA Medical Center, Borden Avenue Veterans Residence, and other facilities in Queens and Long Island. (See news coverage: Queens Chronicle)
February 1 ~ 10
The first week of Caravans kicked off with visits and deliveries throughout New York City, upstate New York and into New Jersey. Veterans organizations outside NYC joined the effort by delivering gift baskets to Fort Drum and the Warrior Transition Unit at West Point, NY on our behalf. (See photos from the first week of deliveries!)
Saturday, February 11
The UWVC kicked off the weekend by traveling to Staten Island to present gifts to 200 service members training at the Manor Road Armory. The visit was warmly and joyously received by the servicemen and women, who were surprised and delighted at being remembered in this very special way for Valentine’s Day. (See news coverage: NY1 | Staten Island Advance)
Sunday, February 12
The cornerstone of our annual Valentine’s Day effort is a trip to visit recovering service members at our national military hospitals in Washington, D.C., which also includes stops at DC-area military facilities as well as a series of wreath-layings at the war monuments on the National Mall. (See photos from our DC Caravan)
The lead element of this year’s Caravan headed off to D.C. on Sunday morning, led by UWVC Office Manager Jeff Swansen (U.S. Navy veteran), to continue our tradition of laying Valentine’s Day wreaths at all the World War I rotunda, World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and Vietnam Women’s Memorial. These quiet yet poignant ceremonies pay tribute to all those who lost loved ones in the service of our nation, and remind the public to cherish each Valentines Day and every moment with their own loved ones.
Monday, February 13
The following day, the rest of our team arrived in the DC area, deployingto Fort Belvoir, MD and Joint Base Ft. Myer/Henderson Hall to meet and greet our wounded warriors and their families and service members and give them wonderful handmade cards, gifts, candy, DVDs, CDs, tee-shirts, hats, and an array of other items. (See news coverage: DCMilitary.com)
Tuesday, February 14
This year’s Caravans culminated with a special Valentine’s Day visit to the brand new facilities at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. Our team members were moved and honored to be able to bring cheer and love to our recovering wounded, many of whom were undergoing treatment and rehabilitation for amputations and other major injuries.
The day’s activities concluded with the presentation of a check from UWVC Team Member Luigi Masu, who for the third year in a row presented a $1,000 donation to the Fisher House at the hospital on behalf of Vietnam Veterans America Chapter 72 of Brooklyn, N.Y. (of which he is President).
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This year’s Goodwill Valentine’s Caravan series was once again a wonderful expression of love and appreciation to those who give so much so that we can enjoy our freedoms. The United War Veterans Council thanks its team members, volunteers, and all of our friends and partners who helped bring this message of support to our military members and our veterans. We look forward to the next caravan series (which may be sooner than you think…!)
2012 Goodwill Valentines Caravan – Deliveries & destinations