Shelton vets organize delivery of $2M to wounded troops

SHELTON — Two city veterans have learned that gifts can go a long way to bettering lives.

Shelton residents Jodi LoDolce and Al Meadows, who served in the Marines and Army, respectively, are both members of the Operation Gift Cards Program committee. The all-volunteer program has organized the delivery of more than $2 million in Post Exchange Service gift cards and corporate donations to the wounded troops at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital in Bethesda, Md., and at Fort Belvior, Va., during 204 visits in the past 16 years.

Overall, 25 Shelton residents participated in the two-day visits.

The Military Order of The Purple Heart Derby/Shelton Chapter 1 and the Disabled American Veterans Stamford Chapter 13 were the first organizations to volunteer to co-sponsor a visit to the Walter Reed Military Hospital for Operation Gift Cards.

Several dozen units of the other major veterans' organizations have joined as co-sponsors, including the Disabled American Veterans Dept. of Connecticut Service Foundation, Inc., which purchases PX Gift cards for Operation Gift Cards, and Hooks for Heroes CT, which fundraises for Operation Gift Cards.

The program has 82 organizations or families who have become co-sponsors to the program by purchasing $1,000 of Post Exchange gift cards, which are available in $25 amounts. They can send one representative to hand deliver their donation to the wounded troops.

Smaller donations are collected until the amount reaches $1,000, then the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 13 will send a disabled veteran to deliver the gift cards, which LoDolce says is therapeutic to the veteran.

The mission of Operation Gift Cards is making monthly visits to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Fort Belvoir.

LoDolce said the program’s objectives are to personally thank the Walter Reed and Ft. Belvoir patients for their service; to present all visited patients with a total of $75 in Post Exchange gift cards; to inform the patients about who to contact concerning benefits available to them when they return to their home state; to provide a means for veterans' organizations and individuals to donate items to various support groups at Walter Reed like the Red Cross and the Fisher House; and to provide the opportunity for local wounded and disabled veterans to participate in a visit to Walter Reed as part of their healing process.

She said Operation Gift Cards also coordinates the participation of Walter Reed patients and ex-patients, as weekend guests, in events like the Take A Vet Fishing Program, the Stamford Halloween Yacht Club's Hooks For Heroes CT Program, and Kathy Granfield’s Veteran Angler Charters. All events involve fishing trips on Long Island Sound.

For more information, contact Operation Gift Cards Chair Al Meadows at (203) 988-2792 or al.meadows@snet.net

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com