Over 30 staff and volunteers from the Will County Health Department, the Will County Health Department Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), the Stickney Township Public Health District, and students from the Joliet West High School HOSA group participated in the Operation Santa Drop Exercise at the Will County Health Department Community Room on Saturday, December 2nd.
It was last Christmas that the Will County Health Department’s Medical Reserve Corps volunteer unit began a new tradition. Donations were requested, and holiday care packages were sent overseas to a unit led by United States Air Force First Sergeant Dan Reilly in Niger, Africa.
The turnout was so overwhelming that a decision was made to make this year’s effort even bigger. And not only that, the Stickney Township Public Health District came aboard as well.
Last year’s holiday care package effort was led by Will County Emergency Response Coordinator Katie Weber. This year, with Weber on leave, Emergency Response Specialist Barbara Agor took the lead role. Agor says last year’s load of non-perishable food, toiletries, and other essentials for our troops was a sign that more could be done.
“Last year, we were hoping for 10 boxes and ended up with almost 30,” Agor explained. “That inspired us to increase our goals and have even more of an impact. When sharing last year’s successes with colleagues in the region, the Stickney Township Public Health District agreed to join our initiative, and we decided to expand our effort and have it soar even further.”
And “soar even further” it literally did. One of this year’s loads of care packages is headed to another United States Air Force squadron, this one serving in Guam. The two other loads are headed for U.S. Army divisions in Syria and South Korea.
Patricia Kulikauskas, Emergency Response Coordinator for the Stickney Township Public Health District (located in Cook County near Midway Airport), felt that inviting her staff and Medical Reserve Corps members to Will County on Saturday, December 2nd was a great game plan. “By combining our efforts, and bringing everyone here to the Will County Health Department today, we were able to take this opportunity to thank and increase morale for our troops that are serving our country, while exercising response plans to improve public health capabilities.”
The Medical Reserve Corps is a volunteer organization that allows adults of any age, from those looking for careers in serving the public to retirees looking for volunteer opportunities, to come together for health-related causes.
In addition, the MRC members were given holiday-themed team names. The packages going to Syria were put together by the “Team Rudolph”, those going to South Korea by the “Team Frosty”, and the load to Guam by the “Team Buddy” (a reference to Will Farrell’s character in “Elf”).
HOSA (originally called Health Occupation Students of America, now called Future Health Professionals), in existence for high school students for about 40 years, has an active group at Joliet West High School led by teacher and Registered Nurse Mary Spata.
Spata says that due to their active partnership with the Will County Health Department MRC, Joliet West HOSA students interested in medical careers are able to pick up substantial experience and involvement. “These students,” Spata explained, “all have more than they need for required community service hours. But this allows them to acquire valuable experience and skills, and to work even more on our partnership with the MRC.”
At the end of the exercise over 10,000 donated items (everything from cookies, pretzels, beef jerky, shampoos, lotions, toothpaste, magazines, notepads, playing cards, plus homemade greeting cards and personal notes) were packed into 98 boxes to be shipped to the three adopted military units. The next stop was scheduling a pick up at the post office, and hoping that the packages all make it to Guam, Syria, and South Korea as close to Christmas Day as possible. For information about the Will County Health Department Medical Reserve Corps, contact Barbara Agor 815-727-8802.