- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 2, 2009

President Obama, his wife Michelle and members of Congress and their families joined volunteers from nonprofit organizations last week to fill 15,000 backpacks with snacks, books and toys for the children of American service members. The event promoted United We Serve, the president’s national call to service, which runs for 81 days, until a new National Day of Service and Remembrance, set for Sept. 11. This nationwide initiative is intended to encourage Americans to make service part of their daily lives.

A large platform in the middle of the basketball court at Fort Lesley J. McNair Fitness Center in Southwest contained the backpacks. At about 9:15, volunteers from five national nonprofit organizations formed an assembly line and began to fill the backpacks with juice boxes, fruit cups, granola bars, books and Frisbees, then put them in boxes lining the walls of the court.

“I love to volunteer, especially for anything that helps our military,” said Katie Posey, wife of Bill Posey, Florida Republican. “I think that we all have the ability to do something for others, and doing so benefits everyone involved.”

When the Obamas arrived, along with their children, Malia and Sasha, they were greeted with thunderous applause. Mrs. Obama reminded the volunteers how capable they are of giving to their communities. “The hope is that you go back to your home states, to your communities, and you encourage your family, friends, constituents to find ways to continue to serve,” she said. “I am just so delighted to see all of you all here.”

Members of the United Service Organizations (USO) of the District also were present and ready to help distribute the items: 5,000 backpacks were being sent directly to military children around the D.C. area.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to make a difference in people’s lives,” said Elaine Rogers, president of USO-Metro. “The organizers did a phenomenal job, and having the military host it in this wonderful space, it just doesn’t get any better.”

When Mr. Obama took the stage he thanked everyone for supporting the event and said military families are an integral part of the country.

“Those Americans in uniform, it’s clear the nature of their service,” he said. “I think sometimes what’s forgotten is when one person in a family serves in our armed forces, that means the entire family is serving.”

Mr. Obama reminded the volunteers that their actions speak to the best of America and said only good can come from service efforts like the one at Fort McNair. “Ultimately, the strength of America doesn’t come from Capitol Hill, it doesn’t come from the White House, it comes from the grass roots, and that’s what all of you are about,” he said.

The president, his wife and children packed several backpacks. They mingled with those present, shaking hands, posing for photos and thanking everyone for their work.

“This was a wonderful opportunity to give back to the children and the people who serve us 24/7,” said Dr. Monica Reyes-Garcia, daughter of Rep. Silvestre Reyes, Texas Democrat. “I’m a school principal, and it really motivated me to get my campus involved.”

• Alex McVeigh is a writer living in Annandale.

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