New England Group Keeps Troops Warm

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2006 - A group from Massachusetts worked diligently on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to keep the nation's servicemembers warm.

"I really wanted to have something on Sept. 11 to honor the victims, and what better way than to send care packages?" Jim Sereigo-Wareing, founder of "New England Caring For Our Military," said.

Those care packages contained fleece blankets donated by Malden Mills, Sereigo-Wareing's former employer. The company invented Polartec, a synthetic fleece fabric, which is used in the cold weather systems it designs for U.S. Special Forces, according to the Malden Mills Web site.

Class Incorporated, an organization that helps the disabled get into the workforce, and a local senior citizens center provided some volunteers to help box the blankets. Middle school students worked alongside the other volunteers to fill out address labels for the boxes that included a letter explaining how these small pieces of home found their way to the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We were trying to get a community effort in sending that one item to the (servicemembers)," Sereigo-Wareing said. "It was pretty successful."

Sereigo-Wareing held back about 150 of the 1,200 blankets for a special project, he said. He's hoping to deliver the blankets, along with letters of thanks from area students, to servicemembers recovering at Washington-area military hospitals for Veterans Day.

While New England Caring For Our Military doesn't focus on blankets, it does work to make sure servicemembers around the globe get "warm fuzzies" from home.

The organization, which hopes to expand to every New England state within a year, is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program highlighting ways Americans and the corporate sector are supporting the nation's servicemembers.

"Our care packages are usually specific to an individual," Sereigo-Wareing said. "Usually (servicemembers) go to the America Supports You Web site and find our organization, ... then they go to our Web site and submit their information."

Area classrooms generally take a couple of boxes each. The class works from a servicemember's wish list to fill the boxes with entertainment, food and comfort items, he said.

"I don't do very much other than organize it," Sereigo-Wareing said.

These collection efforts aren't the only things Sereigo-Wareing is organizing these days. He's also working on a new way for the nonprofit group to raise funds to cover the cost of shipping the boxes overseas -- a new Massachusetts license plate. His design depicts a bald eagle with a "Support Our Troops" ribbon in its beak.

The commonwealth waived the $100,000 bond it usually requires. Instead, Sereigo-Wareing and his organization must secure 3,000 prepaid applications for the plate, double the usual number.

"That's a big, big venture, and it's going, unfortunately, very painstakingly slow," Sereigo-Wareing said. "We only have a couple hundred, and we've been doing it for seven months."

He approached the legislature in hopes of speeding up the process. Because the new plate would directly benefit the troops, they've agreed to work with him after their recess.

When the plates are authorized, Sereigo-Wareing's group will see $28 of the $40 fee from the first 3,000 plates. After that, the entire $40 will go to the group. Based on other plates that support nonprofit groups, he said the income could be significant.

"The whale plate in Massachusetts makes approximately $1 million a year," he said, adding that even a quarter of that would be huge for his organization. "What we plan on doing is keeping a small portion of (the profits), say 25 percent, and then the other 75 percent, giving it out to any nonprofit in Massachusetts that supports the military in similar ways that we do."

He said he hopes this will reduce the stress of fundraising for troop-support groups.

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