Inside the Chaplain’s ClosetThe American Legion Magazine March 2008
The Wounded Warrior Ministry Center began as some boxes in a hallway, full of donations from the staff and community. Today, it fills a couple of temporary buildings, something of a miniature PX where Landstuhl patients can pick up personal items to get them through a few days at the hospital. All the items represent the generosity of American people, says Landstuhl’s senior chaplain., Col. James Griffith. “Civilian clothes are not a class of military supply,” he says. “This is more like humanitarian aid to our soldiers.”
Patients usually take one to two t-shirts, tow white undershirts, a sweatshirt and loose-fitting sweat pants, two to three pairs of boxers or boxer briefs, four pairs of socks, shower shoes and a duffel bag to carry it all. Women’s undergarments are also stocked, as well as house slippers, athletic shoes, flannel pajama bottoms, washcloths, nail clippers and travel-size toiletries: deodorant, shampoo, shaving gel, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Donations also allow the “chaplain’s closet” to offer CDs, DVDs handheld games, phone cards, puzzle books, snack bars, chocolate, candy, chewing gum, and greeting cards for family or friends.
The hospital can’t, and doesn’t, solicit contributions, so Griffith credits churches, charities and veterans service organizations – including The American Legion – for providing these and other comfort items that he says make a patient’s stay “a bit more palatable and a bit more pleasant.” Dozens of boxes arrive every day. Since 9/11, an estimated $2 million in goods and money have been donated.
Volunteers pay their own way to Germany to work at the Wounded Warrior Ministry Center. Last year, Karen Grimord of Stafford, VA., spent 30 days there, receiving deliveries and making sure patients found items they needed. With a father, father-in-law, husband, son, son-in-law, two brothers, brother-in-law, cousin and two nephews who are veterans – “an American Legion Family,” she says – Grimord pours a lot of time and money into helping LRMC.
“It’s the troops,” she says. “All you’ve got to do is talk to them, and you know right away that you have to do more.”
While the Department of Defense gives all OEF and OIF patients a $250 voucher to the Army/Air Force Exchange Service, that money stretches only so far. So Grimord founded the Landstuhl Hospital Care Project, which posts a list of what the hospital needs – and doesn’t need – at LandstuhlHospitalCareProject.org. Patients, for instance, don’t want full-size toiletries; most stay only a few days. Old magazines, men’s briefs, single razor blades, water bottles, canned food and adaptive foot or hand covers also take up valuable space.
So what do they want? Dark clothes are in – black, gray, blue. And nothing with a corporate logo; patients don’t want to feel like a walking advertisement. But they do have a sense of humor. Last fall, soldiers went bananas over a large donation of flannel pants featuring the “Sarge” character from the Pixar/Walt Disney animated film “Cars.”
“They’re the most popular PJ’s I’ve seen in three years of volunteering,” Grimord says, laughing. “Sarge is loved dearly.”