Mary Thrower is unlike many Red Cross volunteers, in that she often doesn’t get to see those she helps face to face. But that doesn’t make what she does any less meaningful to her.
As the lead volunteer for the Service to Armed Forces program at Robins Air Force Base south of Macon, Thrower works all year as a lifeline during emergencies for military families and deployed service members.
So she found it “very, very rewarding” for her team to be part of a recent occasion aimed at bringing smiles to the faces of those loved ones, out of sight but not out of mind, serving around the world during the holidays.
At an event sponsored by the Robins AFB Airman & Family Readiness Center, Thrower and other Red Cross SAF volunteers helped put together care packages for 59 Air Force service members deployed from the base to places like Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, and others in between.
She and her group – Nancy Malone and Wendy Hamiltonquinn — worked side by side with family members and volunteers from the military, church groups and the USO to pack the boxes including shampoo, deodorant, razors, lotion and other items. The Red Cross donated many of the items.
Thrower knows what it’s like to receive one of the packages. She remembers receiving them when she was in Saudi Arabia with her husband, who was in the Air Force, and thinking of one of the products, “Oh my gosh. This is exactly what I use.”
Accompanying each of the boxes were Red Cross Holidays for Heroes cards to thank the service men and women for what they do. They were among more than 500 cards the Red Cross collected from well-wishers at Robins as part of its annual campaign in Georgia.
Thrower and her team also used the gathering to acquaint the military family members with services the Red Cross provides. Her “primary mission,” she said, is to provide official notification to the service member’s military unit during a crisis that may lead to emergency leave.
But that’s not all the Red Cross does. It also offers referrals for emergency financial assistance, referrals to other groups that help families, and workshops and counseling to help families deal with the challenges of deployment – and the return home. And the Red Cross doesn’t stop there – veterans also receive help.
Recently the Red Cross introduced the free Hero Care App to provide access to information and services 24 hours a day.
Across Georgia, the Red Cross has more than 700 volunteers like Mary at every major military base and VA hospital, said Eric Jackson, regional director of the SAF program. Jackson noted that the work of volunteers frequently continues after emergency notification, including arrangements to help stateside family members travel to get together.
He is also proud of the work by the Red Cross to help families and individuals in other emergency situations, such as helping homeless veterans register for services from the Veterans Administration. Over the most recent fiscal year, the Red Cross helped more than 7,500 families in Georgia alone.
Jackson calls Thrower a “remarkable” volunteer. “She could work for any group, but she chose to volunteer for the Red Cross, and she chose to work for military families and veterans,” he said. “I’m always in awe of what she does, so cheerfully and so selflessly.”
If helping military families and veterans’ appeals to you, sign up to be a volunteer like Thrower at www.redcross.org. Or if you have less time but still want to help, make a donation at the web site or by calling 1-800-REDCROSS. As Thrower put it, “When you give, you receive back more than you have given.”