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Marine: ‘Felt like it was my obligation and duty to help’
U.S. Marine Bruce Castillo recalls the devastation he witnessed while his unit evacuated families in Staten Island, upstate Peekskill and communities along the Hudson River after superstorm Sandy ravaged the Northeast.
Seeing displaced residents burn their furniture to stay warm inspired Castillo, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, to want to make sure as many families as possible would at least have a warm turkey dinner on Thanksgiving.
“Seeing the devastation and homelessness motivated me to do this,” said Castillo, 26, of Brooklyn. “I felt like it was my obligation and duty to help.”
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Castillo was one of 10 Marines from the 6th Communications Battalion Alpha Company in Farmingdale who volunteered to unload 2,400 frozen turkeys on Thursday.
The Stop & Shop supermarket chain donated the 12-pound turkeys to Long Island Cares’ Harry Chapin Food Bank in Hauppauge, and also recently donated $2.5 million to the American Red Cross to help storm victims.
“We’ve been doing this for 15 years,” said Arlene Putterman, manager of public and community relations for Stop & Shop. “It’s our way of giving back to the community, especially at a time when it’s never been needed more. Tradition and family at this time of year is so important because people have already lost so much.”
This holiday season, the supermarket chain’s Turkey Express program will continue to deliver nearly 21,000 turkeys to hunger relief organizations in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Connecticut.
At the drop off on Thursday, Island Harvest split the 2,400 turkeys with Long Island Cares’ food bank.
Migdalia Otero, vice president of operations and food sourcing for Island Harvest, said the need for these turkeys is so great after the storm that the organization will struggle, but try their best to provide for everyone.
“We’re struggling to meet the needs of the community, but the outpour of donations have been tremendous,” said Otero of Farmingville. “This year is going to be the worst because of the storm. With the devastation, we need to provide double. Our work is just beginning.”
Another member of the battalion, Sgt. Michael Umbreit, said it is the unit’s third year volunteering to unload the turkeys and that it’s to give back to the Island he grew up on.
“We all love doing this,” said Umbreit, 29, of Dix Hills. “I originally grew up in West Babylon, so anything that I can do to help the area I’ll do, and these guys behind me feel the same way.”
Pictured above: Marines Sgt. Colin Devore, left, Sgt. Andres Garciadealba and Lance Corp. Jose Lopez unload turkeys donated by the Stop & Shop supermarket chain at the Long Island Cares warehouse in Hauppauge. (Nov. 15, 2012)