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Donations pour in for troops - 2004
By Jennifer Kovalich,
Three weeks after starting a fund drive to build homes for soldiers who have been wounded in
"I don't even know how to describe it. It's just awesome," said John Gonsalves, 38, president of the organization.
Last year after the
Patriotism formed a bond among strangers. Now the desire to help soldiers whose lives have been altered by the war is attracting people from all walks of life to Homes For Our Troops.
Each day when Gonsalves opens his mail or reads his e-mail, he finds a breathtaking amount of support and donations.
"The cards, the letters I get, the e-mails, people are really opening their arms to this organization," he said.
Two young boys who run a lemonade stand in the summer have pledged to donate to Homes For Our Troops this year.
A 9-year-old boy whose birthday party is at the end of April has asked for no presents. Just donate to Homes For Our Troops please is his wish.
Gonsalves has received letters and pledges from all over the state and beyond.
Cub Scouts in Ashburnham will hold a car wash for them.
Children at the
Gonsalves is aiming to build the first house for Sgt. Peter Damon, 31, of
Damon, a married father of two who is recuperating at
Last week, the National Guard 86th Medical Company Air Ambulance, based in
Then there was the call from Valerie Brennan, of
Sixty miles away from Damon's hometown of
"I don't know John Gonsalves from a hole in the wall," Brennan said Friday.
She read about the charity online and then checked out its Web site at www.homesforourtroops.org, which contains several photographs of Gonsalves and Damon, as well as other injured soldiers.
"I saw the looks on these people's faces and that was enough for me to want to do something to help," said Brennan, 33.
In less than a week she and her best friend Christine Adey, 34, also of
The evening will include a silent auction, art show, choral performances of patriotic medleys, dancing and array of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres. The food will be prepared by a chef who is donating his time. Students at Leominster High School Center for Technical Education will also lend a hand. They are planning for at least 1,500 people to attend. Proceeds will go to the cause. The hotel is even putting the couple up for the night gratis.
"We certainly would like to encourage Peter's friends from
The planning for the benefit has included
The kindness of strangers is something Jennifer Damon, Peter's wife, is learning to take in stride. She works at a pharmacy in
"There is not a day that goes by that someone doesn't come into my work and ask how he's doing," she said. "It's incredible. It's nice to see there's so many people out there willing to help."
When asked why she is willing to make such an effort for people she has never met, Brennan had a quick answer.
"Why wouldn't anybody want to help this cause? These are
Closer to home Gonsalves has also received a variety of donations that will help get the Damon's home built with special amenities for Peter's handicap.
In-kind donations include kitchen cabinets, donated labor for framing the home, roofing, sheetrocking, plastering and painting, Gonsalves said.
A developer from
While the first effort is for the Damons, Gonsalves and Brennan have stressed the charity's mission is not for the Damons alone.
"We're not here just to help one person," Brennan said. "We're here to try and help as many people as we can."
Gonsalves has seen the need for himself. He has twice traveled to
Every Friday night, Fran O'Brien's Stadium Steak House, located at 16th and L streets in
"It was truly an honor," Gonsalves said. "I met some really great people."
Gonsalves, who is a licensed contracting supervisor, spent a year working on a business plan to develop Homes For Our Troops. He believes that effort is paying off.
Securing a house lot is one of the biggest steps he needs to accomplish his first mission.
"If I can secure a house lot I have enough in place to start building," he said.
He believes his goal of establishing Homes For Our Troops as a national charity will become a reality, with thanks in large part to citizens who are again rallying around the troops, doing what they feel is their patriotic duty.
"At this point I'm not sure how many soldiers we're going to be able to help but we're going to help as many as we can," Gonsalves said. "We've got a long way to go. So do these soldiers."