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Community Comes Together to Give to Troops

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By Claire Walla

They won’t be home for the holidays. But for those here in Sag Harbor, that doesn’t mean the soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan will be forgotten.

Organized by local non-profit organization Jordan’s Initiative, the annual Care Packages for Our Troops event to be held this Saturday, November 19 at the Sag Harbor Ambulance Barn will bring community members together for the purpose of assembling gift packages to send to soldiers overseas. Flanked by piles of cardboard boxes, non-perishable food items, toiletries, toys and other holiday goodies, volunteers will create roughly 250 boxes by the end of the weekend.

“From start to finish we’ll probably have about 30 volunteers,” said event organizer Michelle Severance. “We have kids, we have adults, we have people who just open the packages [of supplies] up and people who simply tape the boxes shut.”

This is actually the second time in 2011 Jordan’s Initiative has sponsored a care package collection drive. Last spring, the organization held a similar event in conjunction with a spaghetti dinner held the Sag Harbor Fire House, which ultimately amassed 185 boxes.

“We’ve gotten a big turn out this year,” Severance exclaimed.

Severance has worked alongside her partner and Jordan’s Initiative co-founder Christian Haerter to make these care package drives possible. It’s one of many ways Severance and Haerter have reached out to U.S. troops serving abroad since they founded Jordan’s Initiative together in 2008 in memory of Haerter’s son, Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2008.

Severance explained that the event is financed entirely by charitable donations made by members of the local community. While Jordan’s Initiative has set up red collection boxes at various locations on the East End — several Bridgehampton National Bank branches, Apple Bank in Sag Harbor and East Hampton, St. Andrews Church in Sag Harbor, The Ross School and Epic Martial Arts in Sag Harbor — she added that much of Care Packages for Our Troops’ success comes by way of monetary donations.

While the Boy Scouts managed to raise about $860 earlier this year while soliciting donations outside K-Mart in Bridgehampton, Severance said individuals have also sponsored boxes for $20 each. In total, the organization has managed to raise a total of $3,100, which — for Severance and Haerter — means a lot of shopping.

“We went to Walmart to do some shopping yesterday,” Severance described in an interview last Monday. “And we had the longest receipt I’ve ever seen!”

She said they managed to fill three shopping carts with supplies, everything from food and Band-Aids to stuffed animals and Q-tips. For the most part, they send essential items to the soldiers abroad, categorizing their bounty as “things you would need if you were going camping.”

Severance said the list of items they include in each care package has been gleaned from feedback they’ve received from those who are overseas.

“We have great military connections,” she explained. “Over the years, we’ve definitely asked what people would want to get… otherwise we would have never thought to send toys.”

She said several soldiers have requested receiving items they could give to local children in the areas where they serve.

“It’s a really, really good feeling,” Severance said of organizing Care Packages for Our Troops.

Beyond the event’s immediate goal of reaching out to servicemen and women overseas, she added that another important aspects of the project is being in touch with people here in Sag Harbor.

“We want to tell the community that their money really is going toward a good cause.”