LAKEWOOD RANCH — Lakewood Ranch resident Bob Delaney never expected a pair of shoes to bring the realities of war so close to home, especially since the former undercover agent began sharing his story about post-traumatic stress disorder with troops in Iraq last summer.
But as he ended a visit to Landsthul Medical Center in Germany in June, a sergeant there said Delaney could leave the extra memorabilia he’d brought for soldiers — NBA shirts and other items — for the Chaplain’s Closet, also known as the Wounded Warriors Ministry Center.
What happened next was beyond eye-opening.
“I’m thinking it’s a closet, but when we walked in, it’s a room,” Bob Delaney said, noting it was full of clothing and items such as toothpaste and deodorant. “What really struck me was what was like a silent memorial — big tubs marked left and right (for shoes).”
Many soldiers only need one shoe when they head home, he said.
The mission of the Chaplain’s Closet, which provides soldiers with the clothing and personal hygiene items they’ll need heading home, touched Delaney so deeply he wanted to bring its vision for caring for soldiers to the heart of his local community.
Working with the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund and Tommy and Jaymie Klauber, owners of The Polo Grill and Bar, Delaney is organizing the Wounded Warriors Chaplains Closet Project, a drive to collect new logo clothing for soldiers using the Chaplain’s Closet as well as for the Tamco Foundation’s Embracing Florida’s Wounded Heroes program.
“It struck me, I always hear people say that ‘I really support the troops,’” Bob Delaney said. “It’s a nice phrase, but how do you support them? We’re going to give people a opportunity to give their support.”
After seeing one soldier on crutches hollering and waving a pair of Kansas City Chiefs pants over his head in excitement upon receiving them, Delaney knows the impact the effort will have.
“He was so excited from getting something from home,” Delaney said. “It has a positive, positive impact.”
Delaney said his idea to make the collection a communitywide effort came, in part, after getting an e-mail from his friend, Ken Miklos, who owns a sports marketing company.
Miklos was moving his office to another location and had a roomful of logo items he offered to friends and colleagues. Donations for the memorabilia were to be donated to a charity.
But Delaney stopped the effort short, claiming Chicago Bears sweatshirts, Super Bowl jerseys and other memorabilia for the troops overseas. Miklos even contacted some of his clients — Pepsi, Coke and Dr Pepper — and asked about potential donations.
Not much later, several boxes of merchandise arrived for the soldiers.
“When that started to happen, it clicked,” Bob Delaney said. “This is something we can do as a community.”
Although the closet also takes basic items such as toothpaste and socks, Delaney specifically is asking for T-shirts and other new clothing articles with product or sports logos. Although soldiers are grateful to have new clothing upon their return to the United States — even layering shirts to keep them warm on their flight home in C-130s — having clothing with a logo from home is even more special to them, Delaney said.
“The excitement you see on their faces is amazing,” he said. “(They are) so excited to have something from home.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected]ourobserver.com.
Wounded Warriors Chaplains Closet Project
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sept. 18 and from 1-5 p.m., Sept. 19
WHERE: The Polo Grill and Bar, 10670 Boardwalk Loop, Lakewood Ranch
INFORMATION: Accepting donations of new sports logo T-shirts and other clothing items with logos.
Men’s running shoes: Sizes 9-12
Long-sleeve T-shirts: Large, medium, small, extra-large
Men’s boxers: Large, extra-large, medium, small
Men’s T-shirts: Large, medium, small
Men’s PJ pants: Large, medium, small, XXL and extra-large
* sizes in order of need