By Eric Bartelt, U.S. Military Academy Public AffairsNovember 29, 2012
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Nov. 29, 2012) -- The holiday season, which kicked off with Thanksgiving Nov. 22, is an excellent time of the year for families to gather together to break bread, eat a large meal and converse with family members and friends about the good times. However, not all times are good, and for some people, the holidays can be a difficult time to enjoy without family members, friends, a good meal to eat or a nice home to call their own.
Cadets from Company F-3 decided they would take it upon themselves to help some of the less fortunate throughout the local area through their company community service project.
While all cadet companies do a service community project in some way, Class of 2013 Cadet Jessica Williams took the lead, collecting the company's donations of approximately $2,000 and turning it into a moment of solace for those burdened with current economic concerns or devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
Williams, the Co. F-3 community service representative, coordinated with the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen in Newburgh and helped provide 13 turkeys, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes and juice for a Thanksgiving meal for about 80 people there Nov. 20.
It took about one week for Williams to plan out buying and delivering the food and the transportation needed to get her and nine other cadets to the site to help serve the meal.
Williams came up with the idea because her family provides turkeys to families every Thanksgiving where she grew up in Mississippi. But, it was her own family's plight that encouraged her to be a giving person in life.
"When I was a young girl, my dad went into a sugar coma and the doctors said that it was likely he would not make it," Williams said. "My mom did not bring in enough money to support a family of five. During that time, my family was in need and there were kind people who blessed us with food and funded my brother and I so we could continue our training in karate.
"Those same people paid for my brother and I to travel and fight on the AAU USA Karate team," Williams added. "Those people helped my mom provide us with gifts for Christmas and helped with some of the food for our holiday meals. Being a kid and seeing people who did not know anything about my family giving all that they could to help us, it made me want to help as many people as I can for as long as I have the ability to do so."
Fortunately, her father did get better as he was able to control his diabetes, but it left an indelible mark on her as she has been volunteering with different organizations since she was 12 years old.
During the Thanksgiving meal, she helped with the food and drink orders and spent time talking to the attendees while learning a little bit about their lives. The experience she had is one that she will not soon forget.
"It was the most gratifying experience I've had since I've been at West Point," Williams explained. "It is one thing to give money to those in need, but to be able to see their faces as they enjoy all the things you helped provide to them--it was truly amazing.
"The thanks in their eyes were enough to make me want to do it all over again," she added.The other members of Co. F-3 who gave their time to the service project were Class of 2013 Cadets Steve Burroughs, Benjamin Stone and Brandon Wood and Class of 2014 Cadets Hannah Faughn, Henry Yoder, Shawn Rogers, Oscar Restrepo, Jae Yu and Chloe Drummond.
Each cadet helped in some way by serving rice and beans, mashed potatoes and stuffing or organizing the pie distribution, but each of them were privileged to help in any way possible, especially Burroughs.
Burroughs said he grew up never really getting a chance to enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving dinner that many families experience. His mom immigrated to the United States from Taiwan, and she raised him and his sister alone.
"We struggled to keep the lights on and she worked two jobs just so we could get by," Burroughs said. "A turkey with stuffing was a distant luxury, chicken nuggets from McDonald's was the close reality.
"Fortunately, we've been blessed to move past that phase, but I will never forget the people who have helped us along the way--people who took the time to help out strangers in need," he added. "A commitment to a lifetime of service and helping others is the least I can do to honor the altruism that has helped my family reach where we are today."
Burroughs and Stone were grateful to help serve those in need and felt a responsibility to come out and help local neighbors especially during the holiday season.
Stone said his involvement was "simply the realization that I'm pretty privileged on a daily basis compared to some of the people out there just trying to get by day-to-day," and he was more than happy to give back to his community.
While those 10 cadets helped do their part within the community, another cadet from F-3 shared part of the company's donations in helping families displaced from Hurricane Sandy nearly four weeks ago.
Class of 2016 Cadet Samir Abdelkhalek traveled down to Staten Island, N.Y., over the Thanksgiving holiday to provide a family, who lost almost all their belongings to the storm, a gift card to a local supermarket to help them in their time of need.
Abdelkhalek also gave the principal of a local high school three gift cards to distribute to students of families who lost their homes and possessions due to the storm. Each gift card was for $100, a little something to help them through an extraordinarily challenging situation.
"It was very gratifying seeing how happy the family was to receive the gift card," Abdelkhalek said. "They are going through such a hard time and to be able to help them in some way made me feel good. I am very happy I could help make a difference in their lives."
The giving won't stop there for the cadets of Company F-3. Williams said that the remainder of the donation money not spent during the Thanksgiving holiday will go toward their Christmas initiative to help the community.