The 944th Fighter Wing Annual Tour in Alaska this July allowed members of the team to volunteer in the local community.
Twenty-eight members of the 944th Force Support Squadron split their day between two local charities — the Alaska Botanical Garden and the Children’s Lunchbox, a charity that provides meals to needy children.
“When we found out we would have an extra day off for the Fourth of July holiday, we thought it would be a great time to do something a little different for a temporary duty assignment by giving back to our host community,” said Capt. Derrick Young, 944th FSS operations officer. “We worked with the family support volunteer coordinator at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to narrow down potential volunteer sites. The Alaska Botanical Garden and the Children’s Lunchbox seemed perfect for our group.”
The team started the day off with a light workout in the Alaska Botanical Garden. Members divided into three groups, weeding the East Garden, fixing the fence along the walkways, and laying dirt over a newly installed septic tank to prepare the area for planting.
“It was hard work, but well worth it to help the local community,” said Staff Sgt. Shawana Harris, 944th FSS career advisor assistant chief. “I actually moved to Phoenix from Anchorage so it really meant a lot to me that we could come out and give back. With what we were doing you could see the improvements right away. It really was a great way to spend our day off.”
According to Brie Xavier, Alaska Botanical Gardens programs and operations assistant, the gardens are open all year but only have one full-time, and eight seasonal helpers.
“Without volunteer help we wouldn’t be able to keep up with all the work,” Xavier said. “We really appreciate what this squadron has done. It would have taken our crew all day just to spread the dirt and your group finished it in an hour.”
After a short lunch the 944th volunteers headed to three locations of the Boys and Girls Club to prepare meals and organize food.
The first group made 160 turkey club wraps, 160 ham and cheese sandwichs, and more than 200 bags of vegetable snacks for lunches.
“Here at the Boys and Girls Club we need about 40 lunches and 60 to 70 dinners a day to feed the children who attend our activities and two other daycares,” said Lynette Ortolano, Children’s Lunchbox program director. “Any parent can bring a child to the Boys and Girls club for a meal.”
After finishing the lunches, members took time to visit with the children and challenged them in ping pong.
The second group drove to the portable food unit at Barrtlet High School, which is located just outside the Air Force base. The crew sorted through and organized donated food.
The portable food unit helps students during the school year by providing up to four nutritional meals over weekends. The program has grown from one school supporting 180 students to five schools supporting 2,500 students.
“Thank you so much,” said Carl Snyder, food service specialist at the portable food unit. “It would have taken four and a half weeks to do everything you did in one day. You can definitely come back anytime. There is always something to do here.”
The third group went to the “cold kitchen” and put together peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, veggy snack bags and bagged them for delivery to families in need.
“Something we didn’t know when we started today was that the Alaska Botanical Garden actually donates all the produce they grow to the Children’s Lunchbox and other food banks,” said Maj. Lonnie Sell, 944th FSS commander. “It was nice to see our work basically come full circle. I think we all really enjoyed our day and giving back to the Anchorage community.”