Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM Standing in the offices of Pathways to Healing, a Behavioral Health Collaborative, one truly understands the magnitude of how one mother's heartfelt endeavor to support the troops has united communities all over the northeast.
What began over one month ago as a simple letter to several friends and colleagues by Geraldine Kasulinous medical professional and owner of Pathways to Healing requesting donations for holiday care packages for the troops has turned her offices into a kind of major distribution center for the soldiers.
Last week Kasulinous stood in one of four offices dwarfed by endless rolls of bubble wrap, foam popcorn, unpacked bags filled with donations and hundreds of care packages stacked from floor-to-ceiling ready to be mailed.
For the past two weekends, Kasulinous and many volunteers have been working around the clock to organize and pack up the truckloads of donations that were received from Springfield, Westfield, Hartford and many other communities before the Nov. 3 shipping deadline.
Working in conjunction with the Western Hampden District Department of Veterans' Services, Kasulinous organized several donation drop-off locations and a deadline ensuring that the packages would be received prior to the holiday season.
"I never expected this kind of response from the public. It's unbelievable," she said with tears in her eyes. "But I have not done this alone. People need to be proud of what they have done for the soldiers."
Unaware several months ago of how to help the troops, she said it all became clear when she began treating a soldier with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome just one day after her son deployed for Iraq.
Kasulinous said he told her that while deployed he received an anonymous package, and that he "carried that package in his heart throughout his tour."
Kasulinous said in the midst of packing and trying to run her practice she sent a letter to her son detailing her progress. She said she "knows he's proud of me, as proud as I am for doing what he is doing."
Marya Martinell, a friend of Kasulinous' and volunteer spoke to Reminder Publications while filling boxes with a vast assortment of hygiene products and recreational items.
"So many people are adamantly against the war, as I am, but want to support the troops," she said. "My political views aside, somebody needs to know that somebody cares. People have found this a wonderful way to help the soldiers."
She added that Kasulinous' endeavor has become much larger than initially anticipated, but one that her friend has taken on full throttle.
"She inspires me in so many ways," Martinell added.
Agawam Post Master General Mark DeForge said he has "never seen anything to this scale in Agawam."
He and others at the post office have been working with Kasulinous to ensure that the packages are picked up and shipped out on time.
"You've got your hands full," Ron Gamble, associate sales clerk at the Agawam Post Office told Kasulinous last week while taking inventory of the packages.
Gamble said the cost could be anywhere from $10 to $30 per package depending on the size and weight.
As of the Nov. 3 deadline, Kasulinous said she and volunteers had packed and sent out the majority of the 415 boxes. She added that the combined total weight for the boxes was 7,885 pounds. Kasulinous said that once more monetary donations have been received she will mail out the remaining packages.
Kasulinous said that even after the deadline "financial donations are willingly accepted" as are other donations.
"I would never turn them away because the soldiers need it," she said.
Financial contributions can be mailed to: Pathways to Healing, 540 Meadow St. Extension, Suite 103, Agawam, MA, 01001.
For those wishing to send care packages of their own to soldiers, suggested items include travel packs of Q-tips, chapstick, ground coffee, feminine products, wet wipes, foot powder, hard candy, gum, bug spray (pump style), books, dental floss, combs, hand sanitizers, eye drops and athletic equipment.
Prohibited items include pork products, tobacco, combustibles, alcohol, homemade foods, flashlights, glass products and pornography.
For more information call Pathways to Healing at 789-7455 or the Western Hampden District Department of Veterans' Services at 786-0400 ext. 237.