Fairfield group dispatches 'heart'-felt supplies to troops
The room at Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in Fairfield was jam packed with supplies and abuzz with activities as volunteers from "Project From the Heart" set about putting together care packages for American troops overseas. Alex Fucci taped the boxes together and Noreen Zalenski lined them with plastic bags.
Chris Sullivan was matching mailing labels with packing slips, Miriam Zalenski was filling the wish lists and Shirley Sambrook was marveling at the seemingly endless supply of toiletries, books and snacks that lined the tables.
But that all came to a halt Thursday morning when John Julian arrived with his family in tow. The women stopped what they were doing to shower Julian with hugs and kisses, exclaiming over how much his daughters had grown.
"You've lost weight," Miriam Zalenski told Julian.
The 37-year-old Bridgeport resident is a member of the Army National Guard who returned last month from his second tour of duty overseas in Afghanistan. Both times, according to the squad leader with 1102nd Infantry (MTN) Alpha Company, he and his fellow servicemen and women looked forward to getting their care packages from Project From the Heart, a Fairfield group founded by the wives of retired police officers.
"My first tour I received a package and the letter said, `Project From the Heart,' " Julian said. "I wrote my wife, who found out these women were from Fairfield." When he got home after that first deployment, he had lunch with them. "From then on, I've kept in contact," Julian said.
And he pitches in himself when he's home to help pack the care packages.
Julian will have more time to do that now that he won't be deployed overseas again. "I was injured twice," he said. "I was on patrol with my platoon, coming back from the village and we were ambushed with a mobile propelled grenade that landed in front of me and two of my guys. I got hit in the head, neck and knees. It turned out to be a full-scale ambush that lasted an hour and a half."
Coming back from Afghanistan, Julian said he's spent the last couple of weeks driving around "and looking around at people and wondering if they think of the guys overseas."
Then, he said, he sees what the women Project From the Heart -- and the lone male, Alex Fucci -- are doing. "It makes me feel real good," he said, and receiving the packages the group sends is something the soldiers look forward to.
While Julian and daughters Maya, 7, and Jasmine, 9, helped fill some boxes, wife Maria sat with son Christian, 2, on her lap. "I just thought it was so nice that people would support the troops," she said. "It's so beautiful what they're doing."
Sambrook said the group had been running low on supplies and was meeting only every other week to send their packages. "So I told the ladies we needed to do a little praying," Sambrook said. Apparently, it worked and boxes filled the long tables and were also stowed underneath them. "I wish it was like this all the time," she said. "At Christmas time, people seem to pick a project."
Since 2002, the Fairfield group has mailed more than 6,000 care packages to troops and accepts donations of items as well as cash to cover the shipping costs. For more information, or to send a name and address of someone serving overseas, e-mail Miriam Zalenski at email@example.com or Shirley Sambrook at firstname.lastname@example.org.