Don Campanile was in the U.S. Marine Corps a long time ago, but Marines serving overseas remain on his mind — especially during the holidays.
Marines in Afghanistan need items that aren’t readily available on the front lines of the war on terror. Campanile, who served from 1954 to ’57, works with others involved in the organization America 4R Marines to make sure Marines and Navy Corpsmen get them.
In the stockings will be Tastykakes, Dietz and Watson sausages, toiletries, razors, blades, cigars and candy, along with headlamps and rifle and bore cleaners, Campanile said.
“In general, we try to get them things they can’t get readily at the PX,” he said.
Last weekend, Campanile, of Lawndale, and hundreds of other volunteers filled the Upper Moreland Intermediate School’s “cafetorium” to load up Christmas stockings and gift bags that they’ll send abroad in time for Christmas.
“We plan to send 5,500 over to Afghanistan … some flown out to the front lines,” he said.
Stockings are boxed and sent to each unit’s sergeant major, Campanile said on Sunday as he was stuffing stockings. The gifts are then distributed. “We already did a trailer-load on Saturday,” he said.
Jim Agger, the Willow Grove postmaster, said the boxes of gift stockings are shipped to New York and then go overseas from there. On Sunday, he said he expected the gifts would start arriving in Afghanistan in seven to 10 days, which means Marines will begin seeing them a few days before Christmas, Campanile said.
America4RMarines has been sending packages to Marines stationed overseas for six Christmases.
“Last year, we sent out 5,300,” he said.
According to the America 4R Marines Web site, the non-profit organization shipped 14 tons of gifts — $500,000 in merchandise — during the 2010 Operation Merry Christmas Marines and Sailors.
More than 200 helpers were on hand to pack up this year’s gifts for two days last weekend. They included lots of people from the Northeast, Campanile said, as well as members of the Marine Corps League and the VFW.
“Lots of people are involved,” he said. Santa was there, too.”
Everyone is a volunteer, Campanile said, but the stockings’ contents and shipping them have big price tags. Donations dropped off drastically from last year, Campanile said, and shipping the packages costs a bundle.
“We’ll spend $13,000 to $15,000 just to ship,” he said.
Patty Lewis, of Willow Grove, founded America 4R Marines six years ago. You might say she has a personal interest in the Corps. Her son Brian was deployed overseas three times. He is home now, but for Lewis, making sure Marines stationed far from family and friends during the holidays get something from home goes well beyond family considerations.
No matter our political leanings, she said, “The Marines must see we stand behind them.” ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Generous to the Corps
Anyone can donate to the America 4R Marines’ annual Operation Merry Christmas campaign. Visit america4rmarines.org or make a check payable to “America 4R Marines” and mail to:
C/O America 4R Marines
2900 W. Moreland Road
Willow Grove, PA 19090-3051