NEW BRITAIN - In what she hopes will become an annual tradition, Berlin resident Karen Cote hosted an event on Thanksgiving evening at which gifts were wrapped and cards were written for troops deployed in Kuwait and Afghanistan.
“We had repeats, new people, a ton of people came out,” said Cote, who started the event three years ago at the Berlin VFW when she found out her son was going to be deployed to Kuwait over the holidays. This year’s renewal was held at the New Britain VFW.
She had the help of just a few friends and residents the first year, and over 200 the second year, but this year she said, more than 400 people came out. Enough food and personal care items were wrapped to send 225 boxes to the deployed soldiers.
“These are items they have to pay for, and sometimes the PX runs out of them,” said Cote.
During the event, four active servicemen from Berlin - two from the Navy and two from the Army - handed a box full of items to a family, who then took it to a table and cover edthe items in gift wrap, Cote explained.
Families could apply a sticker to the box that said “Packed with love by (insert family’s name)” before handing it off to veterans who taped it and applied shipping labels.
Cote said people came from Woodstock, Bristol, Wethersfield, Branford and Pawcatuck, and included fellow Blue Star Moms - a designation given to parents of children in active service with the U.S. military.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the place,” she said.
Miss Bristol, Gina Salvatore, sang the national anthem and refreshments were served.
The Ryan T. Lee Memorial Foundation, a Berlin organization formed in 2011 after the 19-year-old Lee was killed, offered to cover the cost of shipping for the boxes - just under $3,000, Cote said.
Items were collected at various locations and organized by Cote and friends at the Colvest Reality Group building on Farmington Avenue.
“I was so worried we weren’t going to have that many items,” Cote said. “But they just kept coming in.”
She said Peter Galgano, a member of the Berlin Veterans Commission, brought in 400 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, allowing each packaged box to include some. Another child brought in about $200 worth of canned goods he had collected on his own, she said.
Cote said she’s still cleaning her garage of left-over items, and is planning on sending 55 boxes in April to Anthony Gagliardi, a Berlin resident being deployed to Afghanistan who was one of the four active servicemen on hand for the event.
“’I can’t begin to tell you how important those boxes are,’” Cote said her son told her on the phone on Thanksgiving, before stating how the holidays are hard when they can’t be spent with loved ones.
“It’s an awakening,” said Cote. “It’s not just about the box. This helps educate people what it it’s like for servicemen and how special it is to volunteer.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or . On Twitter: @CPaullinNBH.