'Angels of Mercy' Program Helps Combat Casualties, Families
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 2004 After accepting the first place 2004 Newman's Own Award during ceremonies in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes on Aug. 24, Marian T. Chirichella told the audience that she considers the award "a tribute to all the volunteer organizations who have supported our active duty military."
Marian Chirichella, who won first place in the Newman's Own
Awards competition along with her husband, Jay Edwards, said the "Angels of
Mercy" program at American Legion Post 270 in McLean, Va., would continue as
long as there are wounded or injured servicemembers returning from Iraq and
Afghanistan. Her comments came during the awards presentation ceremony in the
Pentagon's Hall of Heroes on Aug. 24. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The program, "Angels of Mercy," garnered the top grant of $10,000 in this year's competition. "Angels" is sponsored by American Legion Auxiliary Unit 270 in McLean, Va., and was launched in November by Chirichella and her husband, Jay Edwards, auxiliary member and legionnaire, respectively. It's geared toward improving the quality of life of wounded and injured combatants from Iraq and Afghanistan and their families.
Chirichella said she and her husband were inspired to do something to help servicemembers returning from the battlefields and their families after being told combat casualties coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan had few, if any, personal belongings returning with them.
"To confirm, we paid a visit to the Red Cross station manager at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and learned that our young heroes were in need of civilian clothing and personal comfort items," said the mother of three daughters.
"Wanting to serve the military whose lives will be forever changed, Jay and I became Red Cross-trained and medically approved volunteers," Chirichella said. "We go bedside one day a week, delivering items from the Red Cross cart.
"But more importantly," she continued, "we're the face of America and express the gratitude all Americans feel for what these brave young men and women have given up for you and for me. Our wounded epitomize the adage 'freedom is not free!'"
The couple visits 40 to 50 patients and 25 to 30 family members every week at the medical center, the on-campus Mologne House Hotel and the three nearby Fisher Houses. They estimate that they've helped more than 500 wounded or injured servicemembers at the hospital, or through special events like the Christmas brunch and Super Bowl party.
When they visit the hospital wards, Chirichella and Edwards pass out such items as exercise shorts, pocket T-shirts, boxer shorts, tear-away pants, wheelchair and weight-lifting gloves, ankle-high socks and season-specific items. They also pass out things like phone cards, compact disc players, popular CDs, hand- held games, portable radios, disposable cameras and electric razors.
Every week, Chirichella shops for food and personally cooks meals for the wounded and injured servicemembers' families living at the Fisher Houses at Walter Reed.
While at the Fisher Houses, the couple go to the wives and families and take special requests for items that will enhance the quality of life of the families as they support their wounded or injured loved ones.
Chirichella, the American Legion Department of Virginia Auxiliary Member of the Year, will represent Virginia at the National American Legion and Auxiliary convention in Nashville, Tenn., in late August.
She said over the past nine months, she and her husband have found that as soon community members find out about the plight of returning combat casualties, they want to help. For example, Angels of Mercy receives assistance from private citizens, service organizations, and church groups. Local chambers of commerce, Boy and Girl Scouts, and Sunday school classes also contribute, she said.
"An article in a New York newspaper spurred two very successful campaigns --- a motorcycle group conducted a ride for the soldiers and a unified American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and service organizations held a rally for the troops," Chirichella noted. "They received donations of clothing, games, electronic equipment, personal items and financial support still coming in from those endeavors."
Angels of Mercy received nationwide support after Edwards launched an e-mail campaign alerting American Legion posts and auxiliary units across the country to the needs of wounded and injured combat veterans at Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Chirichella said Legion posts and auxiliary units in 23 states across the country "from Alaska to Florida and California to New Hampshire" have provided supported.
"Requests to distribute unique items have arrived at our door like teddy bears from California and comfort pillows from Oregon," she said. "And from a very special group unable to make a tangible donation the troops continuously receive their fervent prayers.
"We're always on the lookout for other ways to provide comfort to our young heroes who make Walter Reed and the Naval Medical Center their home away from home for the many months it takes to rehabilitate and prepare for their return to military or civilian life," Chirichella said.
She emphasized that the program will continue as long as wounded and injured servicemembers from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom sand their families need support.