For a United States veteran, serving others is second nature.
They are men and women who made sacrifices dedicating themselves to protecting their country. Many of these veterans continue to make sacrifices as they carry battle scars, seen and unseen. That’s the character of a veteran.
So it shouldn’t be surprising to see this kind of character displayed by members of the Hollister Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 9242.
The post continues to serve its country, not only by helping other veterans, but also by helping the current soldiers who are stationed overseas or in the United States.
For the last two years, Post 9242 has been sending monthly care packages to soldiers. They are called “I Care Packages,” and it’s a program that started with Post 9242 member, Bernie Ramirez.
Ramirez began making the care packages when he served as commander of the post from 2013 to 2017. Many of these packages are sent to the active soldiers who have banners still hung in downtown Hollister—another project Ramirez brought to the city.
What began as a passion project in his home has grown into something bigger. Ramirez began by sending packages to the 82nd Airborne—a unit that includes his nephew, Elijah Cabrera.
“We started out here at my house with 10 packages,” he said. “We got some names of some soldiers who are deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and some even in the states.”
As months went by, Ramirez received more names and began sending care packages out every two months. Once the number of packages reached 26, he realized he needed a bigger facility.
“My wife and I said, ‘Well, we can’t do it here anymore, so let’s go to the post,’ and so we did it there,” Ramirez said, referring to the Veterans Memorial Building.
The number of care packages he and his wife have sent out has grown steadily. Ramirez said two weeks ago they sent out 40 packages, their largest number so far.
On the Hollister VFW Post 9242 Facebook page, the types of items needed for the the care packages have been made known to the public, and Ramirez said the support the community has given has been overwhelming.
“I have people dropping off stuff all the time,” he said. “They bring me stuff and they donate money to send. We always have enough to send them out. If we don’t have enough, we can always go buy it.”
The list varies from basic to “comfort” items.
“Jerky, sunflower seeds, Slim Jims. We send them Cup-a-Noodle Soups, any instant flavored drinks, gum, shaving creams, deodorant, especially the guys in Afghanistan. If they’re in the field, sometimes they can take stuff with them,” he said.
Ramirez’s list also consists of snacks such as granola bars, Pop Tarts, instant oatmeal, oatmeal or sugar cookies, soup mixes, and trail mix (but nothing with chocolate, because it melts easily).
Toiletry items such as baby wipes, baby powder, feminine products and throat lozenges are appreciated, and items such as batteries, prepaid phone cards, DVD movies, video games, portable CD players/headphones and magazines provide comfort for those stationed away from home.
Ramirez said that although the list is endless, there are other ways people can show they care.
Families of VFW Post 9242 have often filled the packages, and now those in the community who have heard about this program are lending their support.
“We’re getting volunteers from schools and just people that want to come and help us,” Ramirez said.
He also said there is always a volunteer who will sit down and write individual notes, just thanking these soldiers for their service and asking them to stay safe.
Because the cost of shipping the packages can be expensive—postage for each package is around $19—money donations are always needed. Ramirez said one post office worker always chips in a $100 donation.
He is appreciative of the support the community has given, but he cautions the public to be aware of scams.
“We don’t go door to door,” he said. “I’m the only contact person—I don’t send out anyone to collect money.”
The men and women who receive these packages are grateful and thank the VFW and the community. The 82nd Airborne has even sent Ramirez a picture of soldiers opening the packages.
“Most of them are kids I don’t even know, but that doesn’t make any difference. They’re soldiers. For us veterans, it makes us feel good because we’re doing something,” he said.
He is planning another day in early December, possibly Dec. 1, to make more care packages, and welcomes people to drop off donations or items to him.
“If anybody wants to donate, they can get a hold of me and bring me items. We’ll keep doing it as often as we get a name,” he said.
Doing the banner program and the care packages, Ramirez says, fall into his personal mission: to treat today’s soldiers with the respect and appreciation that many Vietnam War veterans did not receive.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that never happens again,” he stressed. “Soldiers are never forgotten.”
The Veterans Memorial Building is located on 649 San Benito St. in Hollister. Contact Bernie Ramirez at 831.902.7811. For more information on volunteering or on donations for care packages, visit the Hollister VFW Post 9242 Facebook page or its website at vfwpost9242.org.