Volunteers from the Fort Lee Area Spouses’ Club

Volunteers from the Fort Lee Area Spouses’ Club help with the sorting of donated school supplies in August 2019 at the Holiday Helper facility on Battle Drive. The items were subsequently stuffed into backpacks and given to community youngsters. (File Photo)

Normally, during Volunteer Appreciation Week each year, Team Lee celebrates the hundreds of individuals who donate many thousands of hours, contributing to organizational success across the installation.

This year’s observance, April 19-25, slipped by without hoopla – squelched by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most Fort Lee volunteers are scattered to the winds; their services unneeded in agencies being operated remotely or closed altogether. There is universal agreement at Fort Lee and beyond, however, that volunteers are essential to mission success.

Raynell Holman oversees the Fort Lee Area Spouses’ Club Thrift Shop, a place where community members can find gently used uniform items, furniture, kitchenware, sporting equipment, toys, clothing and more at bargain prices.

“Our volunteers are essential to the operation because our limited staff would not be able to do all the work to keep it open,” Holman said. “The shop has around 25 volunteers each month. They take in consignments, sort and mark donations and get them out on the floor, do the mark downs, empty the donation shed, change seasonal displays, haul out trash, do our Story Time and keep the shop as organized as possible.”

Survivor Outreach Services is another organization that relies on volunteers throughout the year, noted Angela Bellamy, the program’s coordinator.

“They assist with numerous events such as Run for the Fallen and our butterfly release,” she elaborated. “They clean and maintain the Memory Garden. They developed and update our ‘Fallen Book.’ We count on them for special projects like placing pictures of fallen service members along the (RFTF) route.”

Many of the same SOS volunteers return year after year, Bellamy said. Regular supporters include military students from ALU and the Logistics NCO Academy, and civilians from fraternities, sororities and banking institutions.

“We have Gold Star members who have volunteered with SOS for several years; as long as they have been part of the program. We have twoactive duty spouses who have been with us for three years,” she acknowledged. “The Gold Star mother spends countless hours in the Memory Garden to ensure it is ready for the Butterfly Release.  The Gold Star sister creates and provides fallen banners at every SOS event on- and off-post.

“These volunteers are vital to the Survivor Outreach Services program,” Bellamy confirmed. “They ensure the community can see the names and faces of our American heroes and that they are never forgotten.”

The Exceptional Family Member Program welcomes 10-to-15 volunteers per month, according to Program Manager Nancy Burns.

“The Yarn Brigade is a support group that teaches the art of knitting and crocheting, which is very therapeutic for our EFMP population,” she said. “Volunteers who participate really enjoy sharing their time and talents for such a worthy cause.”

Jessica Naccarato, EFMP systems navigator, offered a rundown of the Yarn Brigade’s contributions.

“We have donated more than 1000 items – hats, gloves, blankets and toys – to Holiday Helper. We have given over 600 hats to neonatal intensive care units in the surrounding area, and more than 600 to the American Heart Association for the Red Hats for Babies campaign. And the list goes on.

“These items are made from the heart with countless hours poured into them,” Naccarato said. “Yarn Brigade members dedicate their time to help others no matter the reason, and they are beyond valued and cherished by the EFMP team. A majority of them volunteer throughout the post and at other organizations supporting the military. We could not be more proud of their constant dedication and caring support.”

Many military members take their volunteerism out into the surrounding communities, noted Susan Garling, community relations officer in the Garrison Public Affairs Office.

“They’re out there every week helping in so many ways – at local food banks, with Special Olympics, reading to children, participating in river cleanups, and helping with setup and operation of Teen Expos and many other community events.”

Garling also pointed to the Adopt a School Program managed by the School Liaison Officer Chaundra Taswell, 804-765-3813. It has been a huge success with hundreds of military members annually supporting local schools. 

The Holiday Helper program is an all-volunteer effort in which Garling serves as one-of-eight board members.It supports military families who are facing special circumstances. What was once a yuletide-focused program has expanded to free school supplies and backpacks for military children over the summer and other morale-building endeavors. It shines brightest every December when it opens its doors to command-nominated military members and allows them to “shop” for gifts free of charge to give to their children for Christmas.

“Hundreds of volunteers from Fort Lee and the surrounding community take part every year to ensure no military child goes without,” Garling explained. “They are collecting toys, working grants and holding fundraisers; all to ease the financial burden for nominated military members during the holiday season.

“I know several people who have received the Presidential Lifetime Volunteer Service Award for giving over 4,000 hours, and they are still going strong, contributing up to 500 hours annually,” she further acknowledged.

“Today, we have volunteers making masks to help keep our community safe,” she said in reference to an ADFSD-initiated project that was recently highlighted in the Traveller and social media. “Beyond that, we have people providing meals to those who are unable to shop, and others are giving back in ways we’re not even aware of.

“Make no mistake about it, our volunteers are always there because they give from the heart regardless of the situation,” Garling confirmed.“Helping others is what they do.”