On the eve of Veterans Day, organizers of a Support Our Troops partnership were celebrating the generosity of Quad-City travelers and visitors who pass through the Quad-City International Airport.
Since January, customers of the Moline airport's Paradies-Lagardere gift shops have donated more than $40,000 worth of items for the USO of Illinois to use in the care packages its send to area service members.
"I've always heard that people from this area are generous and that is definitely the case here," said Jana Brau, general manager of the two airport stores, who launched the program locally with Jackie Inman, director of the USO of Illinois Rock Island Center.
It's a simple program. As each customer checks out of the Paradies' stores they are asked if they want to donate an item for a soldier care package. Those who agree can choose the item or items from a small basket on the counter. Items, which have been suggested by military members, include beef jerky, gum, phone cards, candy, personal hygiene items and aspirin.
"One day we had a customer purchase the whole basket," Brau recalled.
While both women are amazed at the volume of donations each year, they said the local ISO center is one of the best-kept secrets. In fact, the pair set up a display with ISO banners in the terminal Friday to help raise awareness. "So many people don't know there is a USO on the island," said Brau, who helped establish the first USO Illinois center outside Chicago in 2011.
But the center and its services are no secret to active military members, including those on the island, National Guard and Reserve and their families, she said. Located on Rodman Avenue, the 2,000-square-foot center "provides a place for them to come and decompress. It's a place for them to get away from everyday work, be quiet and relax."
Through its Support Our Troops program, she said the center ships care packages to Quad-City area soldiers deployed around the world. In addition to Paradies, she said the program also has many corporate sponsors who donate money for shipping as well as provide manpower to box up the care packages. "Some use it as a team building," she said.
According to Brau, the partnership began in 2013 when she learned of another Paradies store collecting for the troops. It was the same time she had a nephew deployed with the U.S. Marines. She said Paradies stores in 64 different airports now collect items for the Support Our Troops program.