- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Walter Reed Army Medical Center has asked well-wishers to stop sending donations until next month because the facility has run out of space to store the items.

Officials at Walter Reed say the hospital has received so many donations such as telephone cards, clothing, personal hygiene items, CD and DVD players, cookies and candy for the hospitalized soldiers that its storage room has been filled to capacity.

Hospital officials are urging that well-wishers give cash donations to other organizations that help injured service members and their families and wait until next month to send items to the Northwest facility.

“It’s so neat to see so many Americans pull together and say we love our American service member,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Lee, a noncommissioned officer in charge of Walter Reed’s Medical Family Assistance Center, which looks after wounded soldiers and their families.

For the past month, Sgt. Lee said he has been working 14- to 18-hour days, seven days a week, to keep track of all the donations and care packages that come in.

Walter Reed has collected enough items to fill a 40-by-60-foot storage room all the way to its 12-foot ceiling. Another office is filled with letters, many containing prepaid telephone cards.

“I’m driven by the fact that American people want to help the soldier and say thank you for what you do,” Sgt. Lee said.

Donations collected are in storage areas throughout the District and will be given out to wounded soldiers as the need arises. Hospital officials have said the supply will sustain support to the incoming wounded through at least next month.

Since the war in Iraq began in 2003, Walter Reed has treated 3,735 patients, 955 of them battlefield casualties.

Doing what one can to help seems to be the driving force for many of the donors who sent items.

Nationally syndicated radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy put out a call for extra-large sweat pants and sweat shirts after a listener called in and requested the clothing. The extra-large sizes were needed to fit over the soldiers’ splints and bandages.

“People drove all the way from the Eastern Shore with trunk loads,” Mr. Liddy said. “I couldn’t get into my office because it was filled with sweat pants.”

Mr. Liddy’s listeners donated enough new sweat pants and sweat shirts to fill an 18-foot truck to the ceiling.

Schools nationwide also have been sending donations to the soldiers.

Students at Crestwood Elementary School in Springfield sent donations as part of the school’s character education program, which teaches students to connect to the community through service projects.

Every month students participate in some kind of service project, said Judy Robinson, student leadership counselor at the school.

“The students don’t have a lot of material things, but they do have a lot of energy and heart,” Mrs. Robinson said.

In Brattleboro, Vt., Pamela Nelson, the secretary for the dean of students at Brattleboro Union High School, and teacher Tim Stevenson organized a drive to collect money for phone cards for the troops and their families.

“We wanted to try to help the soldiers and their families, especially during the holidays,” Mrs. Nelson said.

A social studies teacher at Brattleboro Union High is serving overseas with a number of high school graduates. Classes take turns writing to the soldiers, while others participate in Adopt-A-Soldier programs and send care packages.

“We try to do what we can to help,” Mrs. Nelson said. “We live in a very giving community.”

Dr. John Browning, of Gainesville, Ga., gave $1,000 to help the families of the wounded soldiers. He donated $500 to his daughter’s church group that was collecting money to buy things for Walter Reed. He also donated $500 to the Fisher House, one of the “comfort homes” where families of seriously ill or wounded soldiers can stay during treatment.

There is at least one Fisher House at every major military medical center, including Walter Reed, to assist families in need and to ensure that they are provided with the comforts of home in a supportive environment.

“Those guys deserve anything they can get,” Dr. Browning said. “My son-in-law is active-duty Army, and my wife and I were touched by what we’ve seen on TV. We look for worthy causes to give to and felt wounded soldiers were a worthy cause.”

A list of organizations that help injured service members and their families can be found at www.americasupportsyou.mil.

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