Veterans and Lions Club Behind Drive For Soldiers

By Tom Fehn

Even with a number of troops starting to make their way back home after serving for our country, many of our brave men and women are still overseas fighting for our freedom, and Mercy College’s Lion’s Club wants to help out as many of those brave soldiers as they can.

The Lions Club of Mercy College has started the “Drive for the Soldiers” to help the many brave men and women who are still out there fighting for our freedoms on a daily basis.

Antonio Figueroa, the vice president, has been one of the main components to the spearheading of this great tribute as a former soldier who served in Iraq and Kuwait from 2003 till 2006. Figueroa understands how important it is to not only be getting things from back home, but also knowing that they are still thought about by many.

“You appreciate anything that is sent over from cards to blankets. It just means a lot knowing that you haven’t been forgotten,” says Figueroa, who is in his second semester at Mercy. “We aren’t asking for huge donations. We are just asking for people to show they still care. “

Figueroa recalled some of his loneliest times while overseas, and the fact that a package always could liven spirits.

“I wish I could express how happy soldiers become from just receiving the little things in life.”

Every item sent to the troops,

no mater how small, is appreciated that gets sent over. “I remember fighting over socks because you get so much sand on them while overseas that you want to be the one who gets a clean pair,” he said. “I can remember a couple of soldier fights just over socks.”

Figeuroa isn’t the only veteran to remember the sensation of receiving a package from someone that you do not even know.

“Just to know you haven’t been forgotten by everyone is honestly what keeps you going everyday while you’re overseas,” says discharged marine T.J. Ward, who served in Iraq from 2007 till 2009.

“I ended up becoming friends with someone who lived not too far from me as he sent letters over. To write back and forth with someone helped take my mind off things over here, as I’m sure almost anyone who goes through the experiences we do would say the little things mean so much to everyone.”

The Lions Club and the Veterans of Mercy College have both teamed up to start the Drive for the Soldiers.

“Antonio had the vision, and I helped put it to life. He wanted boxes with the Logo and a list of the most necessary items in the Main Hall and the dorms,” says president Ashley Paigo.

Paigo suggested they formalize the program by working with the Veterans Affairs Department of Mercy College, giving the drive

a name, advertising the drive, and thanking the donors. In addition, the faculty advisor asked the Pink Apple Café in Yonkers and the Dobbs Ferry Diner and her colleague Dr. Kraetzer from the School of Social and Behavioral Science if the group could also place boxes in their businesses or office.

And it doesn’t seem as if this is a holiday only drive. The Lions Club is determined to keep sending items to soldiers fighting for U.S. freedom.

Paigo added, “We will continue the drive until all the soldiers come home.”

Figueroa commented that one does not have to be rich to help out.

“We aren’t looking for cash donations. Anything like snacks, socks, books and magazines would be great. Even something as small as a hand written letter, you’d be shocked at how much that will make a soldier smile.

The drive started a couple of months ago with good success as a majority of the boxes are full of gracious donations from Mercy students and faculty. It doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon.

“I will make sure we do this for as long as necessary. As long as one of my brothers is fighting overseas, this drive will be active,” says Figueroa.

The Army sponsored family readiness program is a key component in helping with the drive. The readiness program has been around since the 1950s but hasn’t

really taken off until the last seven to ten years. The Army was thrilled when Figueroa approached them.

“In the past couple of years, the program has had more support from the higher commanders which has given more attention to what has become a great cause and anyone who helps is greatly appreciated,” says Major Apo of the 411th CA BN. “Mercy College is the first college to actually come to us and ask to be a part of the program. “Normally we usually just get businesses that come to us and ask to be a part of it. Its refreshing having a college want to get involved to help.”

Little things like toothbrushes, toothpaste and baby wipes can go a long way says Major Apo but the drive also helps out during the humanitarian visits that the soldiers make when they are overseas.

“People send over clothes sized from infants to 10 year-olds, and when we go over we hand them out to the many villagers who wouldn’t be able to get clean clothes.”

“Liberty, Intelligence, Our Nation’s Safety” is what the Lions Club says it stands for, and its motto of “we serve” is a strong indication of how much they put into helping others.

“If we – students, professors, maintenance workers, lunch workers and Mercy College alumni – all come together we can lead the way and show other

schools how to take care of the soldiers who are still fighting for us,” says Figueroa, who wants more than anything to make as much of an impact as possible. “Talk is cheap, but actions speak louder than words.

“ I hope that when I walk by those donation boxes, they scream out with pride for our soldiers.”