The Helpers are Here
30 August 2021
SIGONELLA, ITALY --
Mister Rogers said to look for the helpers in the face of difficulty, and here on board Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella, they are everywhere.
Within minutes of NAS Sigonella announcing the imminent arrival of evacuees from Afghanistan, the offers of assistance came rolling in from community members near and far.
In Facebook groups, people began discussing what items might be useful and how best to get them to those in need. Some offered guidance on how to ensure donations respected the religious and cultural customs of the travelers. Others went to work thinking of ways to comfort the youngest arrivals.
The first plane arrived the evening of Aug. 22, and disembarking children were greeted with stuffed animals, bringing smiles to their weary faces.
When Ashley Martin learned that there weren’t enough toys to greet the children arriving later that night, she jumped into action. Within two hours, she and others gathered so many donations that she took three trips to drive them all to the NAS Sigonella Chapel.
“Our community answered the call instantly,” said Martin. “So many people came in their pajamas to drop off bags full of stuffed animals, toys, and clothes that were all previously loved by their own children. We all knew it was a call to a greater good.”
The outpouring of support has continued as more evacuees landed at NAS Sigonella. The religious ministries department, along with the Navy-Marine Corp Relief Society (NMCRS) and the United Service Organizations (USO), have been overwhelmed by the amount of diapers, clothing, toys, cell phone chargers, baby formula, and other high-need items that have been contributed.
“The community has been incredibly generous,” said Heather Hebert, director of NMCRS. “Despite the ever changing situation, we have received an abundance of all the items requested for evacuees, as well as support from all the volunteers who have shown up to collect, sort, and deliver the donations where they are needed most.”
USO volunteers have also been among those greeting evacuees from Afghanistan with food, hygiene items, toys, bubbles, clothes, and shoes, as well as serving meals and providing assistance where needed.
“Volunteers have been working tirelessly around the clock to warmly welcome and help the evacuees while also providing much appreciated support to the service members,” said Lt. Ryan Albano, a chaplain onboard NAS Sigonella.
While many of the volunteers are civilians, spouses, and dependents, service members have also volunteered their time.
“The Patrol Squadron 40 detachment was the first on site and pulled together a massive amount of volunteers in short order when we needed it most,” added Albano. “I haven't seen anything like it since I was in Iraq.”
Members of the local Italian community have also reached out to offer assistance, including many local businesses and organizations.
Payton Leigh Perez and Grace Lopez went to a local baby supply store to buy supplies to donate using money given to them by family and friends.
“Upon hearing what we were making the purchases for, the store manager wanted to help,” said Perez. “On behalf of his store, he made an additional donation of 50 packages of wipes, several cases of formula, and four large boxes of diapers.”
In addition to supporting the evacuees, the Sigonella community has also banded together to support the service members who are now working extra shifts and long hours in support of Operation Allies Refuge. The USO coordinated a meal train to provide home-cooked meals, snacks, and drinks throughout the day and night, and many people offered to babysit, dog-sit, and even do laundry for anyone who needed it.
“Whenever a call to help comes in, U.S. service members and their family members show why they are considered America's best,” said Albano. “Everywhere you look, you are just as likely to see a service member in uniform or a civilian volunteer. Our volunteers are virtually everywhere, and we are the better for it.”
For those wishing to learn more about volunteer opportunities or ways to help, please contact email@example.com or visit the Facebook pages of NMCRS Sigonella or USO Sigonella.