Volunteers hit Homewood to pack gifts for Navy sub crew
BY CASEY TONER firstname.lastname@example.org November 23, 2012 5:16PM
Volunteer Janet Wahl and a Boy Scout help pack duffel bags for sailors on the USS Chicago, a submarine stationed in Guam. The event took place Friday morning at the First Presbyterian Church of Homewood. | Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 26, 2012 6:29AM
On Black Friday, consumers nationwide left their beds early to stand in line for the chance to buy discounted electronics and cheaper underwear.
In Homewood, more than 50 volunteers got up early for a nobler cause: to pack goodie bags for U.S. Navy sailors operating the USS Chicago, a nuclear-powered submarine docked in Guam, a small island and U.S. territory.
“All of these people are doing things for our sailors instead of standing in line for ‘door-busters,’ ” volunteer Ed Wahl said.
It’s a tradition organized by the 721 Club, a 26-year-old Chicago-based charity. The packing operation was held from 9 to about 10:30 a.m. in the kitchen of the First Presbyterian Church of Homewood.
To get the goodie bags in order, volunteers formed an assembly line and first packed each bag — customized with a 721 Club label — with its own beach towel. Donated goods followed in the assembly line’s second round and on through the end.
Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts chipped in, helping pack about 160 bags into cardboard boxes that were set to be shipped to Santa Rose, Guam. The island is about 600 miles east of Tokyo.
“I just like to have fun with the Boy Scouts, and this is one way to help the U.S. Navy,” Cub Scout Matt Kelly said.
The bags included junk food, gift cards to Subway and McDonald’s, DVDs, coffee mugs, 721 Club golf balls donated by Idlewild Golf Club, as well as miniature versions of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence donated by the office of former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Chicago).
Dr. Walter Flor, of Homewood, donated calendars, and Hollywood Casino donated decks of used playing cards.
Homewood resident Laura Dillman volunteered for the event, wearing her dad’s dog tags. Her dad served in the Navy during the Korean War.
“I’m doing this in memory of him,” Dillman said.
Don Harnack, a founding member of the 721 Club, said that some members of the group will fly to Guam on Dec. 14 to greet the USS Chicago crew and present its 150 members with their bags.
Club members previously visited the sailors in Hawaii and San Diego when the submarine ported in those locales.
Harnack said the club also gives money to the sailors’ wives, donates gifts to their children, and organizes homecoming parties for them in Chicago.
“It involves a lot of volunteers,” Harnack said.
Roger Tilbrook, who made the trip to Homewood from St. Charles, started stuffing duffel bags full of goodies last year. His son Nicholas has been the USS Chicago’s commanding officer for the past 21/2 years.
“Instead of lying down and letting the turkey work its way through your system, you can come out and do something useful,” said Tilbrook, a retired nuclear engineer. “This is wonderful.”