FORT LEE, Va. – Mallory Whitt had only set her sights on a small contribution with which she could buy diapers for the children of Afghan evacuees.
The Army spouse put the word out on social media, and what happened next was completely unexpected.
“Within 24 hours it was at almost $5,000 (in cash), and it just kind of kept going from there,” she said of the effort that began Aug. 18.
The donations not only came from Whitt’s circle of friends and fellow spouses at Fort Lee but also poured in from complete strangers all over the country.
“I actually ended up taking my post down the next day because I was afraid it was kind of getting out of control,” she said. “My biggest fear was people trusting me with all of this money, and I wouldn’t have a way to use it. Thankfully, there were plenty of ways to help and use it.”
After mulling over what she would do with the contributions, Whitt re-established her post and the charity resumed. She understood the Fort Lee Religious Support Office had the lead on incoming donations but could not take cash; only specified clothing and merchandise.
“The first immediate need we fulfilled were for 30 Pack N’ Plays,” said Whitt of the combination playpen, bassinet and baby-changing stations. She also bought cribs, 600 pairs of women’s leggings, English flash cards, flip-flops, and sandals and underwear among other items.
Whitt also understood she needed to be transparent to contributors. She kept donors updated and posted pictures of purchases and those of RSO volunteers sorting them as further reassurance the contributions were used as needed.
“I think the reason people donated is because they could see where it was going,” she assessed. “They weren’t giving to a larger organization where they couldn’t see where their donations went.”
Whitt, a mother of two and spouse of Capt. Daniel L. Whitt, commander of Delta Company, 16th Ordnance Battalion, said her efforts to contribute emanated from empathy.
“I guess I can imagine being a mom and leaving everything I’ve ever known with my kids and having nothing,” she said. “I can relate to the fear and uncertainty, and how nice it would it be to have some stuff I can call mine and to have people willing to help.”
Capt. Whitt, who supported his wife in the effort, could easily fill in the blanks for what his wife did not know about Afghanistan and the special immigrants. The former infantryman spent 19 months in the Southwest Asia country during two different tours. While working closely with its citizens, he became cognizant of their plight and desire for a better life. His wife’s contributions and those of others, he opined, represents the next phase of commitment to the Afghans following the U.S. troop pullout over the summer.
“This is a way we can continue that service; to further our contributions to that group of people who have been through so much ...,” he said. “Now, they’re in a place where they don’t have anything, and we just wanted to continue that service and complete that obligation.”
Underlying the couple’s support of the Afghan evacuees is the impact of what their school-age children have witnessed and are learning about the situation, Mallory observed.
“My biggest takeaway is having our kids with us and connecting this with their dad’s service,” she said. “They are 5 and 7 years old, so they don’t necessarily understand his deployments, but it has sparked a conservation with him about where these families came from, why they came here and why they need underwear.”
Mallory concluded her fundraising campaign Sept. 1. She raised more than $8,000 and said the experience expanded her world and exceeded her expectations.
“It went above and beyond what I thought was possible,” she said. “I was blown away by how many people were willing to send me money and trust me with it, and how many people who wanted to help but didn’t know how. I kind of saw that need and that I could fill it, so I did.”
In late July, Fort Lee was the first military installation to receive and process evacuated Afghan special immigrant applicants. Since then, several more installations – including two others in Virginia – have joined the effort to facilitate the processing of more than 50,000 Afghans.
Editor’s note: The Fort Lee RSO has stopped taking donations for the Afghan evacuees. Those wanting to contribute to resettlement programs can do so through these and other support agencies: Church World Service; Ethiopian Community Development Council; Episcopal Migration Ministries; Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; International Rescue Committee; US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants; Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services; and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.