2017-07-05 / Home

Local organization that supports heroes serving overseas wins award

By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff

Dave Silver (center) holds the Hero Award at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on the Fourth of July.Dave Silver (center) holds the Hero Award at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on the Fourth of July.As a rule, when Operation Yellow Ribbon (OYR) sends care packages to U.S. troops stationed in war zones, it thanks them for their service and asks for nothing in return.

But OYR President Dave Silver made an exception to the rule last month. The Cong. Beth Tikvah in Marlton congregant called in a favor to any and all soldiers who have ever been recipients of the 30-pound boxes stuffed with supplies and comfort food from the South Jersey-based service group. He also reached out to those who had been given a “rock star-fashion” welcome upon their return home from deployment.

In June, OYR was selected as a finalist for the Wawa Foundation’s Hero Award competition. The winner of the prize, and a $50,000 grant, was to be determined by a public vote and announced during Philadelphia’s Fourth of July festivities at Independence Hall. The competition was tough. All four groups were very worthy, but only the organization with the most votes would win.

“This was the one time we needed their help,” said Silver, 42. “We put out a full-court press and got amazing support. There were messages from so many people we didn’t even know, including from soldiers serving in Japan, thanking us for sending care packages to their brothers and sisters in the military.”

That feedback alone was gratifying. But it only got better. With Silver on the podium and 17 hardcore volunteers in the crowd, OYR was announced as the winner of the top prize during the Independence Day festivities.

“It was amazing,” he said. “It shows all the support we have in South Jersey and around the world. It’s just going to inspire us to keep charging ahead and doing what we’re doing.”

Since 2009, when Silver became involved in an earlier incarnation of the group, there have been more than 300 welcome-home ceremonies for troops upon their return to South Jersey, averaging three of four a month. The group also sends out 150 care packages in a typical month. The all-volunteer group relies both on fundraising and donation drives, which are strongly supported by local businesses and community groups.

The $50,000 grant from the Wawa Foundation is the largest one-time lump sum donation OYR has ever received. The Ravitz family-owned ShopRites have also been a top supporter, having donated more than that sum but over a longer period of time, Silver said. Among many synagogues that support the group, Cong. M’kor Shalom and CBT hold multiple events throughout the year to collect items and make cards for the troops.

Silver, whose involvement stemmed from his frustration with the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, fell in love with the mission. He does not get paid for the 20 to 30 hours a week he puts into it since he took over in 2012.

Riverton resident Andrew Einstein received a box from OYR during his deployment in Afghanistan in 2011. Stationed in a remote area without phone and Internet service or even mail (but somehow bulk packages managed to come through), Einstein was thrilled with the out-of-the-blue delivery containing useful items like toothbrushes and mouthwash as well as comfort food, including Tastykakes. The Kandy Kakes and Krimpets were particularly touching to him and another guy in his unit from the Philadelphia area.

“The Tastykakes were pretty awesome,” said Einstein, an Adath Emanu-El congregant who is now a patrol officer with the Westhampton police department. “We always joked that if they could send Wawa, that would be amazing.”

He was also the recipient of a hero’s welcome, replete with a motorcycle escort that OYR coordinated with the Warriors Watch Riders when he returned from deployment in January 2012.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” he recalled. “We had gone to dinner at Prospectors and came out to see the motorcycles and police outside. It was simply amazing.”

The married father of an 11-month-old son, Einstein said he has participated in a few ceremonies for soldiers since his return. He said he was struck by Silver’s dedication to honoring servicemen and women regardless of his personal views about the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and their aftermath.

“The fact he is able to put his beliefs aside for something bigger than him, it shows what kind of a man he is,” said Einstein. “In our faith, we are about being accepting of other people even if they don’t believe the same as we do. Too often that seems to be forgotten.” 

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