Army of volunteers support local troops
Hundreds of pounds of nuts, thousands of coupons, a mountain of white socks, and even bags of dog bones, are just a small part of the 27,000 pounds of care packages delivered to more than 900 deployed troops over the past six years through Lee Memorial Health System’s Military Support Program.
A small army of dedicated volunteers led by LMHS employee and Military Support Program Coordinator, Kim Gaide, works tirelessly to fill special requests from soldiers, provide support to family members, ship care packages, and remind people we’re still at war and need to remember our local troops serving around the world.
“We will not stop until the last one comes home,” said Gaide in a prepared statement released Monday. “Our military and their families will not be forgotten.”
Lee Memorial Health System began its Military Support Program in May 2003 when they learned families of recently deployed employees to Iraq were at risk of having their utilities shut off. Today, the program has mushroomed into a community-wide effort which has been recognized by the Department of Defense Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve program, earning the prestigious ESGR 5 Star Above and Beyond Award in 2008. The program also has been recognized by the American Red Cross of Lee County and received an ESGR 3 Star Above and Beyond Award in 2005.
The program initially supported LMHS employees serving in the Guard and Reserves who were deployed to the Middle East, but support quickly spread to include LHMS volunteers, family members and eventually throughout the community as the needs escalated and military families had virtually nowhere to turn for help. As the stories and needs began pouring in, help began pouring out.
Gaide attributes the success of the program to word of mouth. Led by Gaide’s unending passion and enthusiasm, hundreds have joined in the effort to provide whatever supplies and services the soldiers and their families may need. Help pours in from across the United States as winter residents and visitors head back north during the summer months, but continue to provide support in the form of donated supplies and coupons.
“We even have Boy Scouts in Maine clipping coupons for soldiers and family members to use in the commissaries,” says Gaide.
In addition to support from LMHS, dozens of local businesses and community organizations provide donations including Mason’s Bakery and Honeybaked Ham, The Miracles Baseball organization, American Red Cross, Pine Lakes homeowners, American Legion Post 38, and many others.
In 2004, the Military Support Program became even more personal to Gaide as her son, Davy, enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Iraq. Throughout his service, Gaide learned first-hand of the challenges, concerns and needs of deployed soldiers, as well as their family members.
Six years after the first LMHS employees got together and worked with utility companies to keep the power on for families of recently deployed employees, Gaide remains relentless in her pursuit to cast light on the continued need to support hometown heroes stationed overseas.
She points to display cases in the Health System’s three hospitals and at Healthpark Medical Center, where pictures and names of currently deployed soldiers they support circle the pictures of four soldiers who have lost their lives since the start of the Iraq War. “We won’t forget.”