Wawa Hoagie Day Kicks Off $700,000 Fundraising Campaign for the USO

PHILADELPHIA—Wawa chose America’s birthplace on Independence Day weekend to launch its most ambitious campaign yet to support the USO.

Celebrity chef and USO tour veteran Robert Irvine joined Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens and hundreds of service members, police officers, fire fighters and first responders as well as dozens of USO volunteers and Wawa associates to construct a 5-ton hoagie on Thursday. The meal – which equated to 23,000 individual sandwiches – was served for free at Independence Mall during the 23rd Annual Wawa Hoagie Day.

“There’s nothing more fulfilling to me in my life than cooking for our warriors and their families and making sure that they know that we love them,” said Irvine, who recently returned from a USO tour to Japan. “The USO is a huge part of that.”

The event, which featured a USO Letters from Home station and hoagie-building competitions between service branches and police and fire departments, marked the start of Wawa’s annual USO fundraising campaign. The campaign runs through August 30 and aims to raise $700,000. Wawa customers can to donate $1, $3 or $5 when making purchases, which will go directly to support USO programs for troops and their families.

“For July fourth there’s no other place you should be than Philadelphia,” said Joe Brooks, President and CEO of Liberty USO. “It’s a wonderful community. A community that knows and understands the service and sacrifice of our military and it’s a community that steps up in many ways, both in donations of their time and money to the USO.”

Snow Problem? No Problem: Some USO Centers Stay Open Late for Troops Despite Weather

You may have heard it snowed yesterday on the East Coast. While news of cancelled flights and videos of dogs-playing-in-snow likely snuck into your Facebook feed, we noticed a different, heartwarming trend. Our Facebook feed turned up several photos and notes about tireless USO volunteers and staffers at centers that were able to stay open taking care of stranded troops. Here’s a sampling:

From Liberty USO, which serves Philadelphia International Airport:

The USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore was able to help stranded troops at Dulles International Airport thanks to three dedicated volunteers. (The center at Reagan National Airport stayed open overnight, too, hosting seven stranded troops):

And in Fort Drum, N.Y. – where the temperature was 8 below zero at noon today – the USO continued business as usual by welcoming home returning troops earlier this week:

Like what you see? You can help America’s troops, too, by donating to support USO centers and programs.

Liberty USO, Phillies Provide Surprise Holiday Moment for Two Recently Deployed Troops

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Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eileen Smith’s eyes filled with tears. Capt. Bud Evans shared a long embrace with his son. No matter where you looked, one thing was clear: Liberty USO had created another USO Moment.

The Phillie Phanatic – in his Phanta Claus outfit – handed holiday stockings to two service members who recently returned from Afghanistan on Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. In each stocking was a free trip to Philadelphia Phillies spring training in Clearwater, Fla., including US Airways travel vouchers, hotel accommodations, an informal meet-and-greet with Phillies players and first pitch honors at a game. (Check out video of the event here.)

In addition to the surprise, Phillies personnel, Liberty USO staff and board members and host John Brazer assembled the final Operation Stocking Stuffer (OSS) care packages, which will go to troops serving overseas. The OSS shipments will bring USO Liberty’s care package total to more than 5,000 in 2013.

Pa. School, National Constitution Center Deliver Lessons via Veterans Day Video Chats with Troops at USO Centers

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Stacy Henry was determined to give her first graders a Veterans Day lesson to remember.

Thanks to a little persistence – and a hand from USO Bagram in Afghanistan – she was able to pull off a lesson the kids at Thaddeus Stevens Primary Center in New Castle, Pa., won’t soon forget.

“This year, with my husband being in the [Army Reserve] and two of his fellow soldiers being deployed in Afghanistan, I decided that it would be awesome to connect with them,” Henry said.

Henry’s initial plan was to virtually connect her students with Army Reserve Sgts. Michael Maurer and Joshua Reilly – both deployed to Afghanistan with the 333rd Engineer Company – for a Skype chat. Maurer and Reilly are in the same reserve unit as Henry’s husband, Sgt. Todd Henry.

While the two deployed soldiers weren’t able to get in on the event, Henry was still able to uplink her school’s gymnasium – packed with 300 first-through-third graders – to USO Bagram to speak with troops at the center on Veterans Day. Todd Henry and fellow Army Reserve Spc. Jason McCray also came to the school to be with the kids during the Skype connection. The kids read a poem, sang patriotic songs and even tried to ask a few questions of the troops on the other end of the call.

“[It was] an awesome, unforgettable, honorable, memorable event on Veterans Day, which I feel proud to be a part of,” said Stacy Henry, whose youngest son, Morgan, is a third grader at the school.

And while Maurer and Reilly missed out on the chat, they won’t be forgotten. Henry said the school was preparing care packages for the duo, and was also looking to send a large envelope full of student-written letters their way.

Constitution Center Links to Troops Downrange

Troops at USO Kandahar pose next to a Skype connection to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia during a Veterans Day event. USO photo

Troops at USO Kandahar pose next to a Skype connection to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia during a Veterans Day event. USO photo

USO Kandahar also got in on the Veterans Day Skype action, linking up to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia for a Q&A with visitors.

USO Kandahar’s DJ Stanhope linked up with Liberty USO – which covers the Philadelphia region – to set up the Skype call, where visitors to the National Constitution Center got an inside view of USO Kandahar and the life of a deployed service member.

Stanhope said the highlight of the call came when two children – a boy around the age of 2 and a girl no more than 4 – sang “God Bless America” for three young soldiers who were participating in the call from Kandahar.

Wawa Welcomes America with Hoagies

Last week Wawa kicked off its Independence Day celebrations in Philadelphia with a special Hoagie Day –  an afternoon full of singing, food and thanking our troops!

Hundreds of thank you notes were collected and will be sent to troops overseas!

That morning over 200 Wawa associates came together to make more than 4.5 tons of hoagie to feed event attendees! Thousands of people came out to eat and write messages of thanks to the troops at the Liberty USO tent!

Anyone know where we can find an extra large ATM?

Wawa celebrated an amazing two weeks of fundraising for the USO by giving us a check for $100,000! The campaign isn’t over yet- be sure to stop by your closest Wawa and drop in some change for the USO – maybe we can double that!

Finally, the USO Liberty Bells closed out the festivities by performing a medley of songs that got everyone up and dancing! Thanks Wawa for all your support and dedication to our military! – Vyque Elessar, USO Director of New Media

USO is There for Troops Stranded by Volcanic Ash

The recent eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland has no doubt thrown a wrench in the plans of thousands of travelers.  None more so than Troops stationed around the world who are deploying or returning home.  It’s times like these that the USO faces the challenge of serving huge numbers of stranded Troops and we’re proud to say we’re rising to the occasion.

UPDATE: From WUSA 9, “Volcanic ash has delayed many troops heading overseas out of BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport…Some troops are getting hotel rooms, some are staying with friends, and others are taking advantage of the USO lounge.” Watch the video below!

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First Lieutenant, Richard Cobb, U.S Army, from Florida has been stuck at the Philadelphia airport because of affect of volcano explosion affecting air travel. He was photograph at the USO, at Philadelphia International Airport on Tuesday afternoon, April 20, 2010. (Photo by ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS)

At the USO Liberty Center – located in Terminal A at Philadelphia International Airport – Army Lt. Richard Cobb found himself with plenty of time on his hands as he waiting to continue on to another flight during leave.  As reported by Ronnie Polaneczky of the Philadelphia Daily News, Cobb and others saw one connecting flight to Europe after another canceled, with no immediate information on when they’d be re-booked.  The stranded Troops who found their way to the USO, however, were weathering the delays just fine:

“I could talk about these [USO volunteers] for days,” said Cobb, 26, who’s assigned to the 95th Military Police Battalion, stationed in Mannheim, Germany. “Their hospitality has been unbelievable. The beds and showers are great. They’re constantly asking me if I want something to eat, if I need a wake-up call, if there’s anything they can do…these guys really deserve the publicity. They do a phenomenal job.”

This support comes at a cost, though, as USO Centers are straining their resources to serve thousands whose flights are delayed.  As numerous sources – including WAVY in Norfolk, VA – are reporting, USO Centers like the one at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta are serving up to 1000 soldiers in a 24-hour period, well over the daily average.

Donations of items like bottled water and packaged snacks are especially appreciated in times like this.  Click here to find your local USO and learn how you can help!

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