Injured military personnel often arrive at Walter Reed with nothing—no clothing, no belongings, and no money. An American Red Cross volunteer greets injured soldiers at the curb, thanks them for their service, and gives them a comfort kit containing personal care items (such as a toothbrush and deodorant) and a phone card so they can contact family members.
Jay Edwards and Marian Chirichella, a husband-and-wife team of Red Cross volunteers, make their rounds at Walter Reed to deliver books and other items to wounded soldiers.
(Photo: Hector Emanuel/American Red Cross)
Once inside the hospital, the soldiers receive more. Twice a day, Red Cross Personal Service Volunteers walk the halls pushing a cart loaded with everything from shorts, T-shirts and hand-made quilts to cookies, magazines and DVD players. The volunteers stop in each room to check on the patient and family and visit for a while, providing a diversion from the usual barrage of medical tests and therapy sessions.
Pfc. Jon-Eric Holt remembers his first Walter Reed visit from the Red Cross.
“The Red Cross showed up my first day when I was here, that I was actually conscious,” he says. [They] had blankets and cookies. The next thing I know, I was getting all sorts of stuff. It just puts a smile on my face every time. They don’t mind sitting there talking for a little bit. When my family’s not here, having somebody to talk to means a lot.”
Every item on the cart has been donated by the American people to the Red Cross to give to service men and women. The tiny Red Cross office at the hospital is crammed from floor to ceiling with donations—new shoes, specialized tear-away clothing designed for physical therapy patients, and a lending library of DVDs, music and books—most of which are from citizens and corporations. Phone cards, DVD and CD players, movies and music are always in high demand, as are candy bars and snacks.
Jay Edwards and his wife, Marian Chirichella, have been Personal Service volunteers at Walter Reed since 2003. Marian and Jay (who calls the cart his “K-Mart on wheels”) started an organization titled “Angels of Mercy” that helps collect items for the Red Cross to give to patients at Walter Reed.
“There’s no way, if I live to be 150, that I could have the experiences I’ve had, and had the opportunity to meet and develop the relationships that I have, if it wasn’t for [my work] here in the Red Cross office as a volunteer and taking care of our troops” says Marian. “I don’t want to see the soldiers getting hurt; I don’t want to see them being maimed. But if they are, I thank God that I have the privilege and the honor of being here to help make their stay a little bit more easy to take.”
Sometimes, the injured men and women at Walter Reed become like family to the couple. One soldier who had been released from the hospital called them the next Christmas to see how they were doing.
“That’s a real reward for a volunteer, to know that someone cares enough, after they’ve gone back home, to call you up and say something to you,” Jay says.
Marian agrees. “We’ve gotten to see babies born. We’ve gotten to attend weddings. So it’s really a family relationship,” she says. “And I think they know that what we do comes from our heart.”
The American Red Cross gratefully accepts donations of new and unused items for soldiers recovering at Walter Reed. Phone cards, gift cards, electronic entertainment devices (iPods, Nintendo DS players, portable DVD players, etc.), and electric razors are always needed;. monetary donations are also welcome, as they are used to buy items that are unique or in short supply. Specific needs vary by month; call (202) 782-6362 to inquire or to give advance notice of any large or bulk donations.
Send donations to the following address:
American Red Cross
Walter Reed Army Medical Center
Heaton Pavilion, Room 3E05
The American Red Cross is not a government agency. We rely on the assistance of caring supporters like you to deliver our critical services. You can support U.S. military members and their families through the American Red Cross as we provide assistance and comfort. Your gift will support the nationally coordinated Red Cross services provided to military families across the country and to American service men and women located throughout the world. Please make a financial donation to Services to Armed Forces by calling 1-800-RED CROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions may be sent to the American Red Cross Services to Armed Forces, P.O. Box 91820, Washington, DC 20090. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.