By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class (AW/SW) Christine Walker-Singh
SAN DIEGO – Volunteers from the Church of Rancho Bernardo gathered to show their appreciation to service members in the San Diego area by distributing essential items to more than 40 military families during an event on Naval Base San Diego, Nov. 16.
“Twice-a-year, the Church of Rancho Bernardo collects toys, clothes, canned food and gift cards to distribute to San Diego Sailors identified by their commands as service members who would benefit from the assistance,” said Paul Salerni, with Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CNSP), and one of the church’s program organizers.
According to Salerni, he and the other volunteers devised the program as a way to thank Sailors and their families for their service nearly three years ago when he revealed to other members of his church that many junior Sailors receive an annual salary, which can make raising a family difficult in the San Diego region.
“Senior enlisted leaders from Assault Craft Unit One (ACU 1), Tactical Air Control Squadron 11 (TACRON 11), Commander Naval Beach Group One (CNBG 1), Mine Countermeasures Squadron 3 (MCM 3) and about 20 ported surface units under CNSP selected three Sailors from their commands who would best benefit from the donations,” said Salerni, who estimated between 40 to 60 Sailors would attend to receive the items.
According to Salerni, the volunteers distributed clothing for men, women and children, canned goods and gift cards to the first arrivals. They also distributed maternity and baby clothes and toys. Salerni also encouraged the Sailors to bring along their families to pick out their own clothes and toys.
“It’s a reward to see the kids try to pick out just one toy to take home with them and see their surprised smiles of joy when we give them a whole box full of toys to take,” said Salerni.
Salerni and the other volunteers are not the only individuals who feel rewarded by the donations.
“We’re all really grateful to the folks involved in organizing this, especially the members of the church. This whole thing was a great way for us to take care of our Sailors, especially with the holidays around the corner,” said Senior Chief Yeoman Marty Magana, USS McClusky (FFG 41) command senior enlisted leader, who selected five of his Sailors to receive items during the event.
Some of the individuals who benefited the most were the family members of the service members who attended.
“I picked up quite a few clothes for my kids,” said a USS Milius (DDG 69) spouse and mother of four. “I’m really grateful they’re doing this; kids grow out of clothes so quickly.”
According to Jeff Hans, the organizer of the outreach event, the program has expanded since its inception three years ago.
“This is the biggest one of these so far. Last year we brought in stuff on a 12-foot truck. This year we had enough to fill a 26-foot truck with items we collected over the last two weekends. We also have seven other outreach programs we’re involved in, including our next one on Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar,” said Hans.
The Church of Rancho Bernardo is one of many churches and organizations that express their appreciation to service members during the holiday season. According to Salerni, volunteers from his church have developed the outreach mainly as a way to thank military members for their service.
“We do this simply to say ‘thank you’ to our Sailors and their families for their service - for volunteering for long, 8-10 month-long deployments, and for defending our freedoms 24/7,” said Salerni.
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