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David Silver is the main man behind Operation Yellow Ribbon in Marlton. He galvanizes dozens of veteran supporters to be sure South Jersey troops are welcomed home with love and fanfare. The group conducts welcome home celebrations just about every weekend. The next one is August 15 and will begin at the Philadelphia International Airport.
What is Operation Yellow Ribbon?
The group organizes and collects donated U.S. Troop supplies and goodies to send to the brave heroes deployed in harm's way in Afghanistan and supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. In addition, the group works to promote, coordinate, and facilitate welcoming home events for local veterans in the South Jersey area by partnering with the Warriors Watch Riders and other like-minded organizations.
When did you get involved?
I had been volunteering since 2009 in a group led by a husband and wife team. In 2012, they decided it was time to retire their efforts. But, some volunteers wanted to continue to suppor the troops. We don't want to stop and keep the mission going. They wished us good luck. They gave us what they had left -- financially and care package supplies. We reorganized and spunoff and rebranded ourselves into the Operation Yellow Ribbon.
Why do you do it?
The fact that we get to be here in the United States and be free -- that's why I got involved and love what I do. The only ties I have to the military is through family members that are older or not alive anymore. I don't have a personal deep connection to the military personally (as I have never served). But, I'm a grateful America. A generation ago, the vets weren't welcomed home in an appropriate way. It's my generation's job to be sure they are.
What's in a care package?
There's somewhere between 25-35 pounds of hygiene products and treats. The troops love getting Girl Scout cookies -- that's their favorite. There's numerous items in the package, like something as simple as baby wipes. A lot of men don't have running water and don't get to shower for weeks so the baby wipes come in handy as well as deodorant, tooth paste and tooth brushes.
A lof the bases don't have the same stock of stuff. We are getting emails saying there's nothing left here. We try to match every request. Sunscreen is a big hit during the summer.
What does a welcome home celebration consist of?
Operation Yellow Ribbon partners with Warrior Watch Riders, a U.S. support group and motorcycle club. We coordinate with them and the returning veteran's local town police and fire and provide an escort that provides a big welcome home greeting. We decorate the yard and the entire street with yellow ribbons and American flags and invite hundreds of people out to line the parade route.
What can people expect who get involved?
Wow, this feels really great -- that's how you will feel. Volunteering becomes a vicious cycle of really feeling good about things when you do them. The selfish part of me is that I feel good seeing the moms and dads' happiness and joy seeing their loved ones come home. Besides the birth of my son, there' s no better thing that I've experienced than a welcome home. We have regular volunteers 30 to 40 constant and consistent volunteers.
Besides Girl Scout cookes what other local flavor do you include in the care packages?
Tastykakes, of course.
How much does it cost to send the care packages?
We spend $2,000 to $3,000 per month at the post office. We ship priority mail in full freight at the United States Post Office and it usually takes two weeks for the packages to reach the troops. Each box is about 12 inches by 14 inches by 24 inches. We rely on fundraising constantly to meet the demand.
What goals have you set for the organization?
We did 33,000 pounds in 2013. It's hard to quantify what that is. It's a lot of trips to the post office. We would like to hit 40,000 pounds this year. I think we hit 20,000 at the end of June. It's summer time and hard to get donations. Long term, I'd love to stop sending care packages. Another hope is that no one is in the MIddle East anymore and they are all safe home. So we can focus on people getting welcomed home properly.