Operation Unity in the Community fills two buses with care packages for the military

The event brought volunteers together from every corner of South Jersey

At Medford’s A Rose in December florist, rain poured. But, dedicated volunteers couldn’t be stopped: They pulled on rain boots and got to work moving boxes filled with care packages into a yellow school bus.

The event had a scheduled rain date, but that meant deployed military members would have to wait to get their box of comforts from Operation Yellow Ribbon (OYR). For OYR founder Dave Silver, that wasn’t an option. 

“It might be raining, but it’s actually sunny here,” Silver said to a crowd of volunteers. “We’re showing our brave men and women we will make the sacrifices and that we don’t forget them.”

The March 28 event was the culmination of a months-long collaboration between Silver; A Rose in December owner December Giberson-Shover; Lenape Regional High School District (LRHSD) bus drivers; and Christine and Eileen Dzwill, co-owners of The Honey Post restaurant in Medford Lakes.

Aptly named Operation Unity in the Community, the event resulted in enough care packages and financial donations from businesses, schools, scout groups and more to fill two yellow school buses.

Members of Seneca High School’s Junior ROTC, Medford Lakes firefighters, OYR volunteers and others formed an assembly line to carry dozens of heavy care packages to two buses that  quickly filled with boxes decorated by LRHSD’s Transition to Adulthood Program, tiny American flags and bags of comfort items like Girl Scout cookies and socks.

On the volunteer line was Burlington County Commissioner Dan O’Connell, who handed boxes to other volunteers from the steps of A Rose in December.

“Burlington County is home to more veterans in New Jersey than anywhere else,” he said, noting the veterans in his family. “A lot of times they seem almost invisible to us, so anything we can do to raise the profile for them, I’m all in.”

The collaboration got financial and physical donations from nearly 100 local businesses and organizations, including Bradley Funeral Home in Marlton, Murphy’s Markets, The Pop Shop and Dietz and Watson. Special T-shirts for the event featured emblems honoring the community’s donations.

Ami Feller, an author from Voorhees, donated copies of her book, along with toiletries and other comfort items. She used to work for a veterans organization and came to the event to continue giving back.

“They’re doing so much for us and keeping our society free,” Feller noted. 

An integral part of Operation Unity in the Community was the donation of buses coordinated by LRHSD driver Mari Jean Andl.

“We’ve been working really hard,” she said. “It’s been stressful with COVID, and then the rain did not help, but we wanted to show the soldiers that we know that they are out there every day in elements in the weather and we’re here for them.”

This is the second year Giberson-Shover has organized a collection event for OYR, an organization close to her heart. Giberson-Shover’s son was deployed in the Middle East and she recognized the stress that came with his work. As a tribute to Giberson-Shover’s dedication, Silver presented her with a flag that military members flew in her honor. 

“You’re an amazing person,” Silver told Giberson-Shover. “Your energy level and heart shine brighter than it would be if it was 100 degrees here, because you have a way of reaching out to the community, getting them involved like I’ve never seen. You just go full throttle and you don’t stop.”