TRENTON, N.J. -Looking over stacks of boxes containing thousands of donated comfort items for U.S. servicemen and women serving overseas, Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes, Freeholder Anthony Carabelli, Mercer County Chief of Veterans Services Ed Mazzeo and local Operation Open Arms representative Rob Marrazzo called "Operation Open Arms" a universal success.
The County began collecting toiletry items, snacks, and other comforts of home to send to military members abroad in mid May. The drive evoked a tremendous response from County employees, the public, and local businesses, all of whom donated heavily.
"This huge collection was possible because people from all walks of life and from all over the County donated what they could," said Hughes, who sifted through the boxes of donations at the Mercer County Connection in Hamilton Saturday. "This shows how much they care about the men and women who are serving honorably overseas."
Although the County's two-week drive has concluded, Marrazzo, owner of Marrazzo Auto Service in Trenton continues to collect goods and supplies at his shop and makes monthly deliveries to the Toms River Armory, where the supplies are then sorted and shipped to individual service persons, Marrazzo said. "We've received letters from soldiers who say they are so excited when the packages arrive and can't wait to see what's inside. Then they trade with each other, like kids in a cafeteria. It really does bring a smile to the faces of our troops.''
Freeholder Lucy Walter first suggested the collection drive, and the County teamed up with American Recreational Military Services (A.R.M.S.), a public charity that started the "Operation Open Arms" project. Freeholder Carabelli said he was amazed and proud at the sheer number of donations in such a short period of time. "We have not forgotten our service men and women who are bravely fighting overseas, and the generosity displayed by our residents is a true show of gratitude."
County employees and members of the public began donating immediately via collection boxes that were put in place at all 10 County library branches, the County Clerk's Office, the County's McDade Administration Building, and the County Connection. The drive grew even larger when local businesses joined the effort. For example, Attitudes Hair & Nail Design in Hightstown donated more than $1,500 worth of items, and Hamilton Dental Associates donated hundreds of toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste. The New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission also made a large group donation of various items.
Among the other items that were collected were: Q-Tips (small packs), razors, batteries, tissues, baby powder, foot powder, eye drops, powdered drink mixes, socks, protein bars, bug spray and wipes, lip balm, mouthwash, granola/cereal bars, sugar-free items, gum or mints, shaving cream, wipes, toilet paper, deodorant, feminine products, cookies, microwave popcorn, coffee/tea packets, over-the-counter medicines, boxed cereal (small), snack foods and nuts.
"We are so grateful for all the supplies, and for this outpouring of support," said Ronnie Micciulla, executive director of A.R.M.S. We think you've all done a great thing."
Donations can be brought to Marrazzo Auto Service, 1538 South Olden Ave., Hamilton. (609) 890-1560.