More reasons to love Western PA, Vol. 2

Like many things done by the Bush administration, if you bring up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you can almost immediately separate your audience into 2 camps — with neither side budging. And with that in mind, I’m trying to not bring up my political views when I write anymore — not because I don’t have an opinion, but because I’m finding there are few people who actually want to discuss ideas and concerns. When I read political stuff, instead of inviting discussion, it rapidly devolves into rhetoric, which means either A) No one really understands the question or B) No one is listening. It’s all party line followed by party line followed by party line.

But when it comes to the subject of the wars, I’ll always take a stand. Being a person who has had many fantastic friends (and family) who have served in the military, when it comes to “choosing a side,” so to speak, I choose to stand on the side of the soldier — regardless of my feelings about why they were sent there. The soldier doesn’t get to pick what his mission will be — the politicians decide where they will be sent, and the soldier carries out that decision. That’s his job, no matter his feelings about it. So if anyone is going to incur my wrath and anger, it’ll be the politicians that voted for the soldier to go. (Read: I’m voting against your ass if you voted to send them there.)

So when I read stories about people spending their time and money to make sure those troops don’t feel forgotten, well, it does my heart well. I mean, yeah, you tend to read about that stuff on a national level, and you see that there are groups dedicated to doing that, so it doesn’t really seem to mean much. I mean, sometimes you don’t think about it because you figure, “Eh, someone’s got that covered.” But then you find out that a group from Arnold has sent weekly packages for the past 5 years to troops in Iraq, and man, I can’t tell you how proud that makes me.

The “Sam” who Van Wagenen referred to is Sam Lombardo, owner of Sam’s Pop Shop in Arnold who organized Cookies for Our Troops roughly five years ago.

Since its inception, Cookies for Our Troops has raised and spent more than $200,000 in sending care packages to troops serving overseas.

Lombardo said the group mails packages on a weekly basis.

Now, I guess what really impresses me about this is that Arnold isn’t really what you’d call an “affluent” community. It’s not really even near any affluent communities. Arnold is where Irish grandma (and other relatives lived), so I’m familiar with it. Like many of Pennsylvania’s steel/river towns, when the mills closed, the town hit rough times and never recovered. It’s had its share of problems — from the mass exodus after the mills closed to the drugs and the element that goes with it flowing in afterward — it’s a one-two combo that has devastated many communities. They’ve been fighting to rescue their community  for years, and will be for years to come.

So to find out people that folks there are knitting helmet liners for our troops and that girl scouts are stuffing Christmas stockings for the troops — I mean, holy smokes, that says something. I can’t fully express myself in the way that I want to here, but that “I may not have much, but I’ll give you what I can” mentality is just overwhelming to me. I mean, sure, anyone can write a check — I’m sure those donations are needed and make a difference — but to think of someone sitting at home, knitting these liners for troops serving — I mean, that’s someone adding a personal touch to their support. Or put another way — there’s support and then there’s support. For me, when I lived down south, I would get money from mom every now and then, and I was grateful. But when Italian grandma would send me her homemade cookies, I would almost tear up. When it comes to being reminded of home, there is that big of a difference. I can’t imagine what receiving anything with a personal touch would mean to the folks serving over there.

Sometimes, unique requests make their way to Lombardo. His group has shipped a snow cone machine, for instance. And Cookies for Our Troops has a running freezer-popsicle campaign.

“I have to be the freezer pop king of Baghdad,” Lombardo quipped.

And this quote made me laugh. I mean, this is almost a typical Western Pennsylvania gesture — lend a hand and throw out a joke as you do it — freezer pops to guys serving in the desert  — that’s simply awesome.

It’s great to realize that despite what we’ve seen in the media regarding the war (the protests, the marches etc), there’s still groups of people out there thinking about the guy on the ground. And one of those groups is right here, in Western Pennsylvania. Sure, we may catch flak here and there for “being stuck in the 1950s,” but you know, I’m not necessarily convinced that that’s always a bad thing. If we’re one of those pockets that has retained some of those “old-time values” that a lot of the country seems to have forgotten, I’ll take the trade off.

Good on ya!

Good on ya!

So, to the Sam Lombardo, the folks of Sam’s Pop & Beer Shop and all the folks that support and contributed to their campaign, this beer’s for you. Keep it up. I think the next time I’m down that way, I’m gonna have to stop by and make a donation — cause while I may not be able to knit, I can take the time to show my support, too.


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