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Walter Reed Hits Storage Crunch for Donated Items

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29, 2004 – Good-hearted and compassionate Americans have given so much to help wounded servicemembers and their families that Walter Reed Army Medical Center officials have run out of storage space for the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of gifts received each week.

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With space maxed out at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for storing donations for wounded troops and their families, such as these prepacked rollaway suitcases donated by a group from Lowell, Mass., Walter Reed officials have stopped accepting donations until enough items on hand have been distributed to free up space. Officials suggest supporting the troops through organizations highlighted on the Defense Department's "America Supports You" site at www.americasupportsyou.mil on the World Wide Web. Army photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

As a result, officials said the hospital will not accept any more gifts until February or later to allow time to distribute the huge amount gifts already in storage. The 40-by-60-foot storage room is filled to its 12-foot ceiling, according to Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Lee, noncommissioned officer in charge of the center's Medical Family Assistance Center.

Lee said the room is stuffed with break-away pants, nonperishable food items, prepaid phone cards, stuffed animals, gift bags, DVD players and movies, CD players and CDs, videos, luggage, blankets, vests, sweat suits and much more.

"We've received a massive donation from the G. Gordon Liddy (nationally syndicated radio) Show and many significant donations from many other places, including the Joint Staff Group at the Pentagon," Lee said. "We've been extremely well blessed. We have about 10 tons of donated items, not including mail. I'm only speculating, but we're probably close to 200,000 pieces of letter mail. Most of it contains phone cards. It's phenomenal."

Lee said his 15-by-30-foot office received so much mail that it became "nonfunctional about three weeks ago." Space was found to store the mountains of mail. But Lee noted that mail keeps coming in.

"It's very common to receive a letter with a single 30-to-60-minute phone card in it," Lee said. "Typically, it will be from a couple in their 80s. And one of them read, 'My wife and I decided not to buy gifts for ourselves this year. We heard of the outcry from Walter Reed and we wanted to use the money we would spend on Christmas gifts to buy the soldiers a phone card.' We receive hundreds of those -- letters like that -- on a daily basis."

Lee recalled a group of 25 to 30 people from Lowell, Mass., who chartered a bus to Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to deliver about 250 prepacked rollaway suitcases to patients and their families. "They had everything a person would want when they come out of (the war zone) phone cards, stationery, sweats, sandals, candy, games (and) disposable cameras," he noted.

Noting that there were several Vietnam War vets in the group, Lee said their prevailing sentiment was, "We will not let happen to this generation what happened to ours."

"That's the battle cry from all the people we receive letters from who served in Vietnam," Lee noted.

Though Walter Reed isn't accepting donated items for a while, Lee said other ways exist for people to help the hospital's war-wounded patients. "You can't turn off American generosity, so we're asking that instead of physical items, what would work really well for us is to help support some of the organizations that support us so well," Lee said.

He suggested sending monetary donations to such organizations as the Helping Hand Chaplains' Fund, American Red Cross, Walter Reed Society and the Fisher House Foundation at Walter Reed. Interested people can find information on these and other troop-support organizations at the Defense Department's "America Supports You" Web site.

Money would help servicemembers and their families with living expenses, transportation, meals and other needs at Walter Reed and Bethesda, Lee said.

"For example, when we determine a family is in a financial distress, we direct them to the Walter Reed Society for a grant," Lee said. "The Fisher House at Walter Reed provides travel back and forth for the patients no longer funded by the government. And they put these families up in very nice accommodations for almost nothing."

The National Naval Medical Center, where the patients are mostly sailors and Marines, receives tons of gifts, too, but not in the volume as Walter Reed. "We're still accepting donations, but we're asking people to donate to the Semper Fi Fund," said a hospital spokesman.

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Related Sites:
Walter Reed Army Medical Center
National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md.
America Supports You
American Red Cross
Walter Reed Society
Fisher House Foundation
Semper Fi Fund

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