While standing in the lobby of Bayshore High School this week, prior to heading to a class to talk to students about journalism, I was drawn to a wall that had portraits of two alumni dressed in military uniform.
They were Army Pfc. Christopher Cobb, a 2003 graduate, who died April 6, 2004, after an ambush in Ramadi, and Marine Lance Cpl. Scott Dougherty, a 2002 grad who died July 6, 2004, near Al Anbar Province, Iraq.
They are among at least six young people from Manatee County schools who have made the supreme sacrifice in America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It brought home to me again the ultimate cost of war, and the risks that our men and women in uniform assume every day.
Jerry Koontz, who is best known as president of the United Way of Manatee County, is also the Manatee County Veteran of the Year.
This week, at a meeting of the Bradenton Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, Koontz talked about Manasota Operation Troop Support, where he is a director.
MOTS collects comfort items requested by local troops in the field, and mails the packages to them. The packages include everything from beef jerky, to Slim Jims, power bars, trail mix, socks and tuna in foil pouches.
The bad news is that the grant MOTS received to fund its operations is all but exhausted, Koontz told association members.
“In two months, we’ll be out of money,” he said.
“We are being very thrifty to keep MOTS in operation,” Koontz said.
Linda Craig, director of Manasota Operation Troop Support, later confirmed that her organization is indeed in dire straits.
MOTS, which once had as many as six part-time staff members, is now down to only Craig.
The only other remaining staff member left Friday.
The organization, which has mailed about 4,000 packages since it was organized in 2007, now has a list of 250 service members.
The problem is not rounding up supplies to send to the troops, or a place to store them, but the $12.95 that it costs to ship each box. That works out to about $1,000 a month.
“The community has come through so we don’t have to spend a dime on product,” Craig said.
Walgreens, Tropicana, average citizens and more have come through with donations of supplies.
“We haven’t had to buy product in a year. The community has been great,” she said.
The rent on the storage facility at Lakewood Business Park is donated, and there is an active board of directors pitching in to help.
“We are working month to month, and that’s a shame because we have so much momentum built up,” Craig said.
Those comfort items from home are important not just for what is in the box going to a soldier, sailor, marine or Air Force member in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s the knowledge that they are remembered and not forgotten,” Craig said.
In March, the Bradenton Herald’s Monday “Giving Back” series focused on MOTS’ dilemma, and the organization had an outreach at the DeSoto Seafood Festival. MOTS will also be seeking to raise funds at the Lakewood Ranch Memorial Day observance set for 5 p.m. May 30 on Main Street.
Donations can be sent to 4301 32nd St. W., Suite C20, Bradenton, FL 34205. For more information call (941) 782-0748 or visit Facebook: Manasota Operation Troop Support or motsonline.org.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.