American soldiers serving remotely overseas combat more than just enemies to democracy, the elements, and rough terrain; they often fight isolation, anxiety, and sometimes boredom. Vietnam War veteran Rick McHenry understands these challenges and wants to help by sending a bit of “home” to American military members.
McHenry recalled the importance of care packages during his service, saying, “When I was in the field, I used to get cookies and letters from my mom. I saw other guys getting care packages with gum, candy, and playing cards, and they were happy to share their packages. In the boonies, we were happy to get anything to remind us of home.”
When retirement from a commercial restaurant design career pushed him to find a new purpose, Rick discovered the America Supporting Americans (ASA) group. In January 2021, he was named president and became the first military person to lead the chapter.
Linda Patterson founded the organization over fifty years ago in San Mateo, California, when she saw how care packages impacted her brother and his military unit. The Greater Conejo Valley ASA chapter began six years ago in local residential garages before growth forced the group to seek better accommodations. The Janss Mall’s NewMark Merrill Companies generously donated space to ASA to collect, organize and store donations, and prepare shipments. The space makes it much easier to sort and pack the numerous and varied items, including beef jerky, Gummi bears, personal care items, paperback books, pens and pencils, DVDs, socks, and more. One expansive wall is devoted entirely to organizing highly desirable greeting cards. Remote locations prevent military members from purchasing special cards to send to loved ones.
The group deeply appreciates the many contributions from local community groups. Ladies from the Goebel Senior Center provide beautiful knitted scarves for troops. Local Boy Scout troops donate popcorn, and Girl Scout troops have generously contributed many boxes of cookies. Elementary school students have sent messages of gratitude to the soldiers, touching the hearts of those who often feel forgotten.
It takes many people working together to meet the military’s needs, but pandemic challenges have greatly impacted both volunteer numbers and the number of packages shipped monthly. To follow COVID restrictions, volunteer staffing was greatly reduced. The pandemic also flattened fundraising opportunities as many events were canceled. With shipping costs of over $10,000 yearly, fundraisers are critical to helping ASA stay afloat financially and provide requested supplies to service members.
The group’s inaugural Flag Day fundraiser, scheduled for June 14, will be their first major event held in over a year. Hosted at the California Museum of Art of Thousand Oaks(CMATO) in the Oaks Mall, the event will be held from 5-7 p.m. For a small $20 donation, the cost to mail one care package, attendees will enjoy an art exhibit, silent auction, and wine with hors d’oeuvres. The Ronald Reagan Library Color Guard will be present with mayors from surrounding cities, City Council members, military leaders, soldiers, Rotarians and Kiwanis members. (This event is open to the public, but RSVPs are required by emailing either rick@rmchenry@.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The Flag Day fundraising event is just one part of McHenry’s plan to integrate community involvement. He would also like to see Thousand Oaks join Westlake Village and Agoura Hills in adopting a military unit. It only seems fitting that these cities adopt units since they have proximity to the naval bases and many military families living within city borders.
The Conejo Valley is home to many Blue Star families, those with active military members. These families are encouraged to request that ASA care packages be sent to their loved ones in the service. For military personnel who attended local schools, the group would like to collect letters from alma maters to add to their care packages.
McHenry has his eye on the prize. “I would like the tri-community and the citizens themselves to recognize what we’re doing for the troops and want to be a part of our effort to show love and respect for the men and women in uniform.” Rick McHenry and ASA volunteers are working tirelessly to ensure that American military personnel feel the support of their fellow countrymen, even if it arrives in small packages.
TROOPS LOVE THESE DONATED ITEMS:
- Beef jerky
- Flavoring for water
- Ramen noodles
- Season salt
- Chapstick/Lip Balm
- Coffee packets
- Dried fruit
- Hot sauce (single use)
- Feminine hygiene products
- Disposable razors
- Dental floss
- Power bars
- Eye drops
- Playing cards
- Greeting cards with envelopes
- Paperback books
- Pipe cleaners
- Money donations for shipping costs
- Donations may be delivered to the ASA office at 193D in the Janss Mall, located between Gold’s Gym and Nordstrom Rack.