JACKSON TWP.: The USO of Northern Ohio by the end of the year will close the Stark County warehouse where a staff member and many volunteers had put together care packages for troops since 2005.
About the same time, however, the USO hopes to open a “family room” in Stark County where families of deployed service members can receive donated items, officials said. The family room location has not been secured, spokesman Paul Rado said.
Local volunteers, who have assembled packages of food and personal items at the facility on Hossler Drive, just east of Akron-Canton Airport, are not happy about the closing. They have launched a petition drive to try to keep the site open.
All care-package operations for the region will be consolidated into a facility at 16706 Chillicothe Road in Chagrin Falls, said Raymond Froelich, a member of the board of the USO.
“We are not eliminating the package program, we are just consolidating,” Froelich said. “We are right-sizing” operations.
The USO of Northern Ohio ships out about 1,000 care packages a month, he said, and about 55 percent of them are put together in Stark County.
Normally, a package is sent to one soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or member of the Coast Guard and that person shares what is sent with others in his or her unit.
The package can include books, magazines, DVDs, food products, sunscreen, cleaning items and such personal items as toothpaste, toothbrushes and baby wipes.
Froelich said that with troops removed from Iraq and a shrinking number of troops left serving in Afghanistan, there are not as many troops for the USO to serve overseas.
The facility, which at first was provided to the organization for $1 a year, now costs the USO $3,000 a month plus utilities, Froelich said.
“Our costs have increased dramatically,” he said.
Petitions signed by about 225 people asking the USO to reconsider its decision have been given to the USO.
“This facility has run efficiently, has enlisted numerous dedicated volunteers and community resources, and has resulted in continued outreach to the area’s armed forces and their families for many years,” the petition reads, in part.
“The location by the Akron-Canton Airport has been a huge asset, especially in light of the fact that many of our soldiers leave for bases from this location.”
Christie Frangos, who with her husband, Gus, of Twinsburg Township, started the petition drive, said it is very important to keep the Jackson Township location open because of its proximity to both Summit and Stark counties.
The mother of a son now serving in the military said she and her husband and four other children have volunteered at the facility over the past four years. She fears that if the location is closed, even though she and her family will continue to volunteer, many others no longer will serve.
“To lose any support would be devastating,” Frangos said.
Rado said it is probable that at the end of next year, the organization will look at cutting back even further on the care-package operations at Chagrin Falls based on fewer troops overseas.
According to its website, the USO operates at 130 locations around the world with a mission to provide morale, welfare and recreation services to military forces and their families. The USO of Northern Ohio was established in 1941.
The USO also operates a canteen at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Cleveland, the Bob Hope USO Lounge at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and many other programs for members of the military and their families.
A USO care-package center was set up at the Ohio National Guard Armory on North Hawkins Avenue in Akron in 2004, when the Ohio Army National Guard’s 1484th Transportation Company left for Iraq. It moved to Jackson Township in 2005, when the unit returned home.
On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week, remaining donated items that were too large to be shipped from the Jackson Township facility will be given out to military families in need from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Rado said.
At 7 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Embassy Suites at 5800 Rockside Woods Blvd. in Independence, the organization is putting on a suicide awareness program for veterans, military families and caregivers.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.