PEPPERELL — Shaun Gallant of Groton Street merely wanted guidance about sending a letter to the newspaper. His letter was meant to thank Pepperell businesses for helping put together 147 pounds of “care” packages that were sent to his brother, Sgt. Edward Gallant II, in Afghanistan.
His information — and more from Mike Ignazzi, Paige Haley of Front Door Realty, and police Chief Alan Davis — revealed a growing story of troop support by more than a score of local residents, none of whom sought to take credit.
The three “care” packages contained individually-packaged items requested by Sgt. Gallant and 23 other U.S. soldiers serving with him.
Formerly of Pepperell, Gallant has already served one tour of duty in Iraq as an Army MP, following his two hitches in the Marine Corps. He is in the midst of a 15-month Afghanistan tour. His wife, Tanya, is caring for their son, Edward III, 5, and daughter, Alexis, 7, in Germany.
“It’s not about me. It’s about friends and people who rallied,” Shaun Gallant said.
He is aware VFW Post 3291 is looking for names of service members to send items to, but since his brother is “being taken care of, why should I take up someone else’s (chance for gifts) who’s name might not be included?”
Ignazzi, a Charter Communications employee, has been involved with donations from co-workers for years. His brother did three tours of duty in Vietnam.
“Somehow we talked to Shaun’s brother. There was so much donated we said if there’s anyone else who needs things, we’d help,” Ignazzi said. “Of course, when something goes to one guy, everyone gets it. But we had so much we asked for a list of names,” Ignazzi said.
Charter manager Dean Johnson provided them.
Ignazzi said Donelan’s Market manager John Joaquim “was on board right away” when approached. “He’s never asked for anything. And ‘The ‘Slush Lady,’ Adrienne Roszik, was involved in a heartbeat.
“She went to the Girl Scouts, who made cards for the soldiers, then to the Pepperell Post Office to acquire magazines and calendars left by residents — hard to get reminders of home in Afghanistan,” Ignazzi said.
Roszik’s children picked soldier’s names and worked all summer buying them things.
Paige Haley of Front Door Realty was asked for help and “jumped in,” Ignazzi said. Haley talked to “Jeff” at Sites and Signs who is making a sign for a drop-off station at Front Door for future mailings, Ignazzi added.
Haley said her office will become a permanent gathering point for items and she’s added staff and hours this month to keep the office open.
“I was very little in the scheme of things,” Haley said. “Our whole office will be the drop box and hopefully we’ll get a lot of items. Pepperell is truly is one of those stereotypical small towns (where people care).”
When police were asked to accept a drop box, Ignazzi said department secretary Cathy Forrest immediately agreed and contacted Chief Davis, who approved setting up an alternate site in the lobby.
“The box is in here right now,” the chief said last week.
Ignazzi spent time buying items on soldier’s lists that had not been donated. One person gave him $30 to spend. When he brought back a carefully tallied list of where the money went, more money was waiting for him from other folks.
“Monday, Dec. 1 we worked until 10 p.m. filling everything. The Post Office was OK with lighters and compressed air, but pork products are not allowed into Afghanistan,” Ignazzi said.
“I was just was picking up loose ends but it kind of exploded on us,” he continued. “Maybe we can have a huge run, something like Christmas in July. I don’t know what’ll happen but I’ve got a feeling the next round will be bigger. This time it was 20 people plus businesses,” he said.
The next shipment may be sent some time in January. Davis has been told the police donation box will be picked up at Christmas.
“What I want to get across is it’s such an effort by so many people,” Ignazzi said.
Tanya Gallant had just put her children to bed in an Army post in Germany when she was contacted by phone. She said she hears from her husband more frequently on this overseas tour than last but morale “could be better” and “it’s a lot tougher than last time. He’s going one day at a time.”
She had recently spent two-and-a-half weeks with her husband on his R &R leave and it was tough when he returned to the war. Her son has begun “acting out” without his father, upset about his leaving, and her daughter is “emotional.” Gallant is serving one of the last 15-month tours and, should he be sent back, it would be for 12 months.
“I’ve seen people at home thank him. That is appreciated more than they’d ever know,” Tanya said. “I’m more proud of my husband than words can say.”
She also said, “The only thing I want to say, on behalf of my husband and myself, is that the packages are appreciated, the troops appreciate them more than anyone knows. There is nothing more to say than thank you.”
Shaun Gallant and Mike Ignazzi both said they love their town because of things like this.
“The spirit of giving I’ve seen is tremendous,” Gallant said, “and I’m benefiting as well because people want to take care of my brother even though they’ve never seen him. I’ve never been in the military and I look up to my brother for that.”