Flanders Retirees Kick Off Their Week Sorting Care Items For Military

Flanders Retirees Kick Off Their Week Sorting Care Items For Military

By Cheryl Conway

Ask Pete Grice how he got involved in Operation Jersey Cares and he credits his friend Bill Grant.

But Grant points to Grice for encouraging his volunteering every Monday down in Somerville to help sort donations and create care packages for deployed servicemen overseas and veterans.

It does not really matter how they got involved. What matters most is how these two retired men from Flanders have committed themselves every single Monday to volunteer their time with Operation Jersey Cares. They hop in their car, taking turns each Monday to drive the other, at 9 a.m. and spend about three hours, until noon, helping out the non-profit 501c3.

Part of the Monday Morning Crew, Grice and Grant join about 20 to 30 other volunteers from central and northern NJ in an operation to bring much needed items to military men and women from the United States.

Since its founding in 2007, more than 750,000 lbs. have been shipped. Each package contains an assortment of personal items, toiletries and food items. Many of these packages are sent to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to navy personnel aboard various vessels.

Grice, who has lived in Flanders since 1985, with his wife Carol and their two kids now grown, got involved in OJC two years ago shortly after retiring in July 2015. He had worked as an electrical sales manager in manufacturing for the past 45 years.

Since retiring, Grice, 71, has gotten more involved with the Knights of Columbus in Mt. Olive; the New Jersey Jazz Society where he plays clarinet and saxophone with several jazz bands; and is a member and volunteer with St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Flanders.

Monday mornings are set aside for OJC.

“Whatever they have a need for I volunteer my time,” he says. Most of the volunteers, men and women, are also retired or semi-retired.

“They bring in a lot of donated materials, items to be repackaged, toiletries, food items, personal items,” says Grice. From the Girl Scouts, OJC receives about 40 pallets of cookies that get redistributed to troops overseas. Mary Kay donates sunscreen.

“We get a large request for peanut butter and jelly,” says Grice, adding that the servicemen and women “can’t get much of that in Iraq or Afghanistan” or while on a ship.

“Squeezable peanut butter and jelly,” when they get that, “it’s as close to home as you can get.”

Other popular items that go in the care package include coffee, tooth paste, body wash, shampoo, Q-tips and baby wipes to clean weapons.

“Everyone gets toothpaste, soap, toothbrush, soap, oatmeal, hot chocolate,” he says, and sometimes a pair of socks, a stocking on Christmas, candy after Halloween.

On Mondays, the volunteers sort through the donations and put items inside Ziploc bags, “making sub-assemblies so that when we do have a packing we take one of each.” Separate Ziploc bags are created for personal care items and contain toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, body wash and all other personal care items.

The boxes OJC ships are 40 pounds each, 16 inch by 16 inch deep “filled to the brim,” says Grice. “We do not ship any Jersey air; every inch is filled. Filling the bag is like a big puzzle.”

In addition to going every Monday morning to help sort the donated items, Grice and other volunteers attend packing events to fill the boxes.

“Sixteen times a year they have packing,” says Grice. “We do 200 to 300 boxes that eventually get shipped somewhere.

“It’s a very feel good experience,” says Grice. “You can’t be there,” when they are opening their care packages, “but you know you’re there in spirit. You know you’re doing a good thing.”

For the past 11 years, OJC has sent over more than 20,000 care packages, notes Grice. Of those packages, 90 percent go to men and 10 percent go to women.

His volunteering for the OJC is his way of doing his part, despite his effort to be involved in the military his younger years.

While attending Drexel University in Philadelphia before getting his degree in electrical engineering in 1970, Grice served with the ROTC for a few years. He had wanted to join the army, he says, but was rejected because his feet were flat, he says.

“They said I had weak arches,” says Grice. He says his dad got rejected from serving for having flat feet as well.

“Back then, if you’re going to be an officer you need to be perfect,” Grice explains during the late 1960s. “They didn’t want any sergeants with flat feet.”

As far as volunteering though, Grice can’t be stopped.

“It’s a good thing to do,” says Grice about his volunteering at OJC. “It’s something different, supplements the fact that I didn’t serve in the military.” He says he gets a lot of satisfaction knowing that his role “helps the troops somewhere. When you’re a soldier somewhere, it’s nice to get that box from the mainland” and to know “that we’re thinking of them.”

Grice says, “Imagine being a soldier over there somewhere and getting a bog box 40 pounds filled with all this good stuff?”

Grice sometimes brings his daughter Kathleen- who is a teacher in Rockaway- along to help. He says he learned about OJC through his friend Grant, who he knows through the neighborhood, church and Knights Of Columbus.

But Grant says it was the other way around.

“He got me involved,” says Grant. There was another member of KOC from Chester who was volunteering with OJC; he invited Grice and then “I said “I’ll come down with you,’” explains Grant.

Bill Grant Cares About Military Too

When he is not serving as a grand night at KOC, Grant, 68, of Flanders, is either playing golf, shooting photographs, volunteering as a walking scorer at amateur golf tournaments or helping sort items at OJC with Grice.

“Happily retired” for the past two years, Grant worked in information technology for AT&T for a “long time;” then worked for IBM, and as a consultant technical manager and analyst for M&M Mars. He has lived in Flanders for the past 35 years with his wife Christine and their three children now grown. His son Michael Grant, and wife Amy, remain in town.

The fall after he retired, Grant says he’s been joining Grice on Mondays and some special Saturdays at OJC.

“We take turns every other week” driving, he says.

Grants explains the reason for his commitment: “To volunteer my time, to help my troops deployed overseas, send them stuff overseas” as a “payback for their sacrifice and what they are doing for us,” says Grant, “giving them a little taste over there of what they had here.”

Although he never served in the military, Grant says he had many relatives who did serve in the army, air force and navy during World War II.

As part of the KOC, Grant also assists Long Valley in its Vets Summer Fest Operation Chill Out, an annual music festival which was set to be held August 11 at Vasa Park in Budd Lake to help homeless veterans.

Every “little bit to make our servicemen and women’s time a little more bearable a couple hours a week, it’s the least I could do,” says Grant.

Grant and Grice join many other volunteers in its mission to provide support to the military through OJC.

History of OJC

Its foundation began back in 2005 when Tom Cunningham of Ringoes started to send care packages and boxes to his nephew George who was in the Marines serving in Iraq.

When Cunningham met another caring individual also sending packages for military through the Somerville Post Office, the two connected and “started to send stuff together,” explains Cunningham. “This grew into a group,” to take care of veterans in nursing homes, veterans in hospitals and send packages overseas.

In 2009, OJC became a 501c3 and since 2007 has sent 800,000 pounds to troops packed and shipped overseas to all over the world, and has helped military families, veterans in nursing homes as well as those in transitional housing, explains Cunningham.

Since he began, Cunningham’s son Tommy is a captain in the Marine Corp.; his niece is also in the Marines, as well as another nephew who was wounded in Afghanistan and another serving in Iraq.

He says he is “just a marine dad,” and his wife, Susan, who died last year, was “a marine mom.”

His packages through OJC not only reach his family members, but all who serve.

According to its website, “Operation Jersey Cares aims to honor those men and women who provide us the blanket of freedom we all sleep so soundly under. OJC will continue to support those who are currently deployed, proud veterans, as well as our loyal military families.”

Cunningham stresses that as a 501c3, no officers, members and/or volunteers of OJC receives a salary or monetary compensation for their efforts.                                                  In addition to packing and shipping care packages to deployed servicemen and women, OJC supports veterans who are suffering from the effects of deployment, as well as assisting them as they transition back into civilian life.

OJC supports military families in need, homeless veterans, Veterans in Transitional Housing and wounded service members at various VA hospitals throughout the country.

Fundraisers are organized annually to help with its mission and monetary donations are always welcome.

“For a little group in New Jersey, we touch thousands of lives,” says Cunningham. “We have so many people who want to help.”

To get involved, visit www.operationjerseycares.org for more details. Churches and schools can organize collections, students can write letter to troops as well as to veterans in nursing homes and transitional housing.

The next fundraising event, the third annual Gala of Giving, Country Style, set for Sept. 15 at Patriotic Barn, in Asbury, is sold out with 250 people registered to attend. Financial donations are always accepted.

Call 908-989-0245.


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