Army Holiday donations

VICENZA, Italy -- Sgt. Sergio Carrillo drove his big blue van loaded with food through the narrow gates of Caritas, a Catholic charity that helps Vicenza's neediest people.

Carrillo, a Southern European Task Force chaplain's assistant, was fulfilling a holiday mission in the spirit of giving.

"It's the first time I've ever done something like this," said Carrillo, 27 of Los Angeles. "It's a good thing."

Beside him, Maj. Jose Herrera, the Catholic chaplain at U.S. Army Garrison, Vicenza, checked a list of donations contributed by American Soldiers and families.

It was quite a haul. Bags and boxes filled the seats and floors of the oversized van. There were 120 cans of food, 21 pounds of pasta, Italian coffee, sugar and cereal. He also counted roughly 1500 diapers, plus baby powder and rash ointment.

"We have generous people," Herrera said. "Christmas is a season, not just a 24-hour period. We're still thinking of giving."

Earlier in December, Soldiers at Caserma Ederle read in an Italian newspaper that there was a need among those in Vicenza hard hit by the economy, especially those from the immigrant community, said Col. David Smith, the SETAF chaplain.

"We saw an opportunity to reach out to our neighbors and make a positive contribution," Smith said.

The local military television affiliate, AFN Vicenza, ran announcements alerting the community to the need. The SETAF command sent e-mails to units across the post. Instead of collecting money during the holidays, the chapel collected offerings of food and supplies for the local community.

At Caritas, Carillo and Herrera unloaded the van with help from Italian volunteers. Inside, several African immigrants watched.

SETAF began its transition to U.S. Army Africa, a new endeavor to support U.S. Africa Command.

About 30 percent of people who use Caritas services are from Africa, said Vicenzo Vario, a Caritas worker who oversees the charity's food bank and emergency shelter.

"Many are from Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Burkina Faso," Vario said.

Many Caritas clients don't have money to pay for rent or utilities. The charity has seen an increase of 27 percent compared to last year, Vario said.

"Many are pregnant women or single women with children, Vario said.

Vario and other Caritas' staff welcomed the Soldiers and said they were grateful to receive the donation. Vario hoped to see more Americans stationed in Vicenza volunteering in the local community, he said.

"We see Americans are people and they have a heart."

Page last updated Tue January 13th, 2009 at 14:11