Every year, on the last Monday in May, the people of the United States remember the military heroes who died while serving the country.
But Northeast resident Jerry Kean is one of those who doesn’t wait until Memorial Day. Nor does he wait until our men and women in uniform pass away. Kean keeps all of them in his thoughts all the time, and he also remembers them in his deeds.
Over the last decade, Kean and his many supporters have collected, packaged and shipped more than 35 tons of non-perishable snacks and household goods to American troops in combat zones in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. Earlier this month, local Scouts and Kean’s own Knights of Columbus group helped him send another big shipment overseas.
It may be the last for a while because Kean’s primary military contact, U.S. Air Force reservist and Northeast resident Daniel Monteiro, was just deployed to the Middle East for his third tour of active duty.
“We do two or three shipments a year and we’ve done 36 tons easily,” Kean said as dozens of adult and youth volunteers packaged the supplies on May 1 at the St. Martha School gymnasium. “This probably puts us over 37 [tons].”
The long-term project is rooted in the Modena Park resident’s personal commitment to his Knights of Columbus duties and his appreciation for the 13 years of service that own son, Jerry Jr., has given to the U.S. Marine Corps. In the Knights, lodge members advance through the organizational hierarchy by fulfilling obligations called “degrees.” Kean chairs the patriotism committee for the Knights’ Mary Queen of Angels Council based at St. Martha’s.
“The fourth degree is the most important degree — patriotism,” Jerry Sr. said. “Plus my son is a Marine. He left three weeks ago for Afghanistan and he was in Iraq twice.”
When his son was on his first deployment, Kean got to thinking and decided to send him a few comforts of home, but the younger Kean refused the offer. Jerry Sr. sent that first shipment anyway. His son’s comrades welcomed the gifts enthusiastically.
“My son said he didn’t need anything, but I sent him 20 boxes and they were gone in 20 minutes,” Kean said.
Kean made a second large shipment in that first year, but he and his supporters paid a hefty price. The two shipments cost $600 to send via the Postal Service. Then one day, Kean’s wife, Patricia, remembered that the couple’s neighbor “Danny” Monteiro is a technical sergeant based at McGuire Air Force Base in New Hanover Township, N.J. He fixes KC-10 cargo refueling jets.
“On my drill weekends, if there’s a shipment ready, I’ll take it — whenever they have a shipment ready,” Monteiro said.
The care packages, each weighing 15 to 30 pounds, travel free of charge on Air Force flights, just like government-issued supplies. Now that Kean and his helpers don’t have to pay postage, they can spend more money on goods for the troops.
The boxes contain snacks like beef jerky, toiletries, books, DVDs, phone cards and other items that most civilians take for granted, but that are considered luxuries by the soldiers, airmen and sailors in a war zone.
“These guys are working 12-hour shifts six days a week. When they get this slice of home life, it keeps them going,” Monteiro said.
“It reconnects them to home. It shows that the people at home don’t forget them.”
The latest shipment was the biggest yet because members of the Boy Scouts Troop 449 and Cub Scouts Pack 449, based at Philadelphia Academy Charter School, combined efforts with Kean’s group, as did students with Lincoln High School’s Jr. ROTC program.
Other participants and contributors included the St. John Neumann Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, Millevoi Brothers Auto Center, Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart. The scouts added some sentimental touches to the boxes.
“I put in a notepad and candy and I wrote a letter,” said John Hydock III, 9. “It said, ‘Thank you for protecting us.’ I put other things, but I forget. I wrote a couple things on the box, like American flags and the Pentagon. [We did it] to help the troops with the things they don’t have in other countries like Afghanistan.”
State Rep. Ed Neilson is their former scout leader.
“We try to do something to get the kids to pay back [the community] every year. This year, we decided to give something to the troops,” Neilson said. “We were looking for any way we could ship these boxes and Jerry was like our savior.”
The recent shipment was Kean’s largest ever. Monteiro accompanied the packages as he set out for the Persian Gulf on May 7. With Monteiro out of the country for a while, the shipments may be placed on hold. Or perhaps another military contact will come to the fore.
“God provides, so I’m sure he’ll find us another,” Kean said. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org