Groups work to help those in uniform

  • By Amy Daybert Herald Writer
  • Sunday, November 22, 2009 12:01am
  • Local News

EVERETT — Kathy Gambill started a Thanksgiving tradition four years ago at the Everett Naval Station.

At that time, Gambill, 63, was the newly appointed president of the Navy League. She wanted to start a program to help Navy families, especially during the holidays.

“I took it to a whole new level because I saw a need,” she said.

Gambill went looking for donations to provide as many Thanksgiving dinner baskets to sailors in need and their families. She stuffed 150 baskets with a turkey, potatoes, rolls, cranberry sauce and more food for the holiday.

The need has grown every year, Gambill said. With the help of monetary donations from individuals, businesses and the Tulalip Tribes, she hopes this Thanksgiving to fill at least as many baskets as last year’s total of 350.

“It’s a huge task,” she said. “If just every person gave a dollar, it would be so amazing, and I think everybody can afford a dollar. We can show our gratitude by making sure the neediest of those among us are taken care of.”

Before becoming president of the Navy League, Gambill had no connection with the Navy and worried that the position should be filled by someone who did. She was recruited by a retired captain of an aircraft carrier who told her she could do the job and was capable of bringing people together for a cause.

Today, Gambill feels a personal connection to the military. Her grandson joined the Navy Reserves three years ago and served in Iraq last year. Her daughter’s husband serves in the Marines and was deployed to Afghanistan in May.

“Before there was no connection; I just did it because there was such a need,” she said. “I am connected now.”

Gambill will shop for all the food to put in the baskets by herself. This year, she knows she’ll have to have baskets ready for 188 sailors and their families from the USS Abraham Lincoln and assumes she’ll need at least another 150 baskets to fulfill the need from smaller ships and the naval base.

“I’m feeling kind of panicked,” she said. “We need extra help this year to take care of everyone.”

Once the baskets have been packed and handed out on Wednesday, Gambill will have a little time to regroup before she turns her attention to shopping for Christmas presents for the children of Navy families in need. Last year, she shopped for 500 children.

“I’m trying to get people educated so they know this is what we do every year and so they know there’s a huge need and a great opportunity to do something for people who help us so very much,” Gambill said.

Helping the wounded

Snohomish resident Janice Buckley wanted to help military personnel after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. She started by baking brownies for the National Guard. Then, in 2004, she founded Operation Homefront Washington out of her home to support troops and their families.

Buckley, 60, changed the name of her organization earlier this year to Heartbeat — Serving Wounded Warriors and refocused the nonprofit’s vision to serving wounded soldiers.

“The change was made to correspond with the ever-increasing need to help wounded warriors,” Buckley said.

Heartbeat provides emergency services, special events, support groups and therapeutic opportunities for wounded service members and their families.

Buckley remembers the time she heard about a soldier who lost his left eye while on a humanitarian mission in Afghanistan. His parents wanted to visit him in the hospital but were working as missionaries in Peru and did not have the funds for a flight back to Washington.

Heartbeat paid for one parent to fly home and arranged for another nonprofit to fly the other parent in to visit their son at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Buckley said.

Another way Buckley and other Heartbeat volunteers help wounded soldiers is by serving meals.

While dinner was cooking one Christmas at Fort Lewis, a soldier with severe post-traumatic stress disorder smelled the food and came into the kitchen.

“He started talking more and more and we were laughing,” she said. “He told me it was one of the best Christmases he’s had.”

Oftentimes the soldiers she serves ask to pay her back, Buckley said. She politely refuses, telling them that’s not why her organization exists.

“I think they set the standard for excellence,” she said. “I think they constantly think of someone else; it’s part of their personalities. It’s an honor and a pleasure to give back to them.”

A simple gesture

This time of the year, giving something to members of the active forces, military guard and their families can also be as simple as a holiday card.

Red Cross Snohomish County receives holiday mail for local service men and women and their families, Bev Walker, service to the armed forces director at Red Cross Snohomish County said.

“The Red Cross Holiday Mail Program started in 2007 when Walter Reed Army Medical Center approached the Red Cross for help to distribute thousands of cards that came to the facility for wounded soldiers,” she said. “Nationwide the program has received 1.4 million cards for military men and women, their families and veterans.”

Cards can be handmade or store bought but cannot include personal e-mail or home addresses, excessive amounts of glitter, e-mail or any inserts including letters and photos. Holiday neutral cards are encouraged and should be addressed to “Dear Service Member, Family, or Veteran” and signed.

One individual may send up to 15 cards and a business, school class or group can send up to 50 cards. Each card does not need to have its own envelope and large quantities may be bundled together in one large mailing envelope. Cards should be mailed to: Holiday Mail for Heroes, P.O. Box 5456 Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456.

The Red Cross provides service to 1.4 million active-duty military personnel and their families and reaches out to more than 1.2 million members of the National Guard and Reserves and their families.

Military personnel and their family members in Snohomish County can call the local Red Cross chapter at 425-304-4476 anytime of day for emergency assistance.

Assistance for veterans and information about benefits, services and programs is also available from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs,

Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491,

How to contribute

Heartbeat is currently working with Project Linus in Everett to provide and fill stockings for soldiers. Donations of stocking stuffers are needed through Tuesday. Interested individuals, families or businesses can also donate gift cards and participate in Heartbeat’s Adopt a Family program for the holiday season. More info: 425-931-1047,

The Navy League of Naval Station Everett is currently accepting monetary donations to fill Thanksgiving dinner baskets and provide Christmas gifts for Navy families. To make a donation or to volunteer, e-mail or call 425-238-4115.

The Stanwood-Camano Hero Quilters group provides quilts for the American Hero Quilts project. The quilts are given to wounded soldiers at Fort Lewis. People can help sew or donate money to American Hero Quilts, More info: Sharon Szekely, 360-387-4800 or

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