Northeast Times

Sending love over there

Loc­al man Ger­ald Kean (front cen­ter) has been as­sem­bling care pack­ages for over­seas mil­it­ary units for the last 10 years. He rep­res­ents Knights of Colum­bus and gets help from the BOy Scouts and from a US Air Force re­serv­istat McGuire Air Force Base. This is the last ship­ment for a while, be­cause the re­serv­ist will be de­ployed to Afgh­anistan, Wed­nes­day, May 1, 2013, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

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 wkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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