Music performed by the Riverhead Middle School band filled the ears of nearly two dozen people gathered outside Peconic Bay Medical Center Thursday afternoon.
The crowd came out to honor and thank veterans for their service in honor of Memorial Day and witness The Auxiliary at Peconic Bay Medical Center donate a $3,500 check to Boots on the Ground — a team of veterans who provide veterans and their families with food and furniture, and also ships monthly care packages to the military units that don’t have access to supplies.
Volunteers from the hospital came together to create this Memorial Day fundraiser three years ago, said Joan Fehling, director of volunteer services for the hospital. All of the money raised goes toward a different charity each year. This year, Boots on the Ground was the recipient.
The auxiliary raises funds through the sale of military items sold throughout the spring such as the flags that line the entrance of the hospital.
“There’s close to 350 flags,” Ms. Fehling said. “Every single flag has a veteran’s name on it, either living or deceased, from World War I all the way up to the current wars.”
Numerous community members and staffers from Peconic Bay Medical Center were in attendance at the ceremony, in addition to Mark Woolley from Congressman Lee Zeldin’s office, Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, Councilwoman Catherine Kent and Kathy Doherty from Boots on the Ground.
The Riverhead Middle School band played three songs and the Riverhead NJROTC performed the color guard during the singing of the national anthem. Mr. Woolley presented the auxiliary with a certificate from Mr. Zeldin for their volunteer efforts.
Peconic Bay Medical Center president and CEO Andy Mitchell reminded attendees of the sacrifice veterans have made, and noted that many veterans are employed at the Riverhead hospital.
“This morning when I was driving here I saw a sign,” he said. “I think that, like many national holidays, often these days get commercialized. The sign I thought was pretty poignant. It said ‘All give some. Some give all.’ In that context, let’s remember what Memorial Day is about and give thanks to all of our veterans.”
Before accepting the $3,500 donation, Ms. Doherty shared her story.
A Navy veteran, Ms. Doherty is married to Navy veteran and has two children, one son is currently deployed as a member of the United States Navy.
“I saw very early on that the scars of war come home,” she said. “Recognizing that it’s Memorial Day weekend and that many sacrificed their lives so we could be here today, many don’t stop serving when they come home.”
She spoke of family members who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a former Navy diver boyfriend who committed suicide and her own struggle with adjusting to life back home.
Bouncing around from different doctors and veterans affairs locations, she finally found something that worked in Boots on the Ground. Since then she has volunteered her time with the organization, collecting for food drives, sending care packages overseas, organizing peer nights and more.
“We are saving lives,” Ms. Doherty said. “We hear the number 22 [referring to the number of veterans who take their own life each day], and well intentioned people do a lot of things, but we don’t know what to do to change that number. This is what we do. At Boots on the Ground we leave no veteran behind.”
Photo caption: Joan Fehling, director of volunteer services for the hospital’s auxiliary, spoke at the event. (Nicole Smith photo)