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RUSKIN – Every year, in early November, Americans salute the men and women who have stood ready – and have fallen - to defend the nation.
With parades, speeches and various community observances, veterans and their sacrifices are recognized on their designated day. Traditionally, photos commemorating the day depict the living marching in uniform and the dead in fields of marching white crosses.
In South Hillsborough County, however, there is yet another recognition, a unique effort, a very practical salute, a quiet Veterans Day tradition being established. It’s “Operation Patriot”, an annual drive conducted by the South County District Four personnel of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) to meet basic needs of veterans now living in the closest state nursing home particularly for them.
The Baldomero Lopez Veterans Nursing Home, nestled in a stand of pines near Land O’ Lakes in southern Pasco County, houses about 120 veterans at any given time, according to Sgt. Ken Escobio, drive coordinator. They include men and women representing all U.S. military branches who served during World War II as well as in the undeclared wars of Korea, Viet Nam and the Middle East, Escobio noted.
As part of their care, he added, each is allotted a $35 monthly stipend to cover all the personal items needed. The razors and shaving cream, denture cleansers and adhesive, tooth brushes and tooth paste, deodorant and Depends undergarments, tissues and all other such daily care products which make life a little easier for each resident must come out of that allowance. Often, it simply doesn’t stretch, opening a gap between what is needed and what is available, Escobio said.
Enter the men and women of D-4, HCSO, with a solution they alone bring to the nursing home. Their Operation Patriot drive now is gearing up for the fourth consecutive year. For the next three months, D-4 personnel will be collecting both contributed new products and cash for their purchase, including gift cards, at the four South County sub-stations plus their headquarters on 33rd Street, between the east end of SunPoint Plaza and the western slope of I-75.
The HCSO sub-station collection points include the Apollo Beach facility in the strip mall on U.S. 41 at Apollo Beach Boulevard, the Riverview outpost on Commerce Drive behind Sunshine State Savings and Loan, the Ruskin facility on Shell Point Road and the Wimauma station on 12th Street.
“Our objective for 2007 is to keep up our record of exceeding the previous year’s total contributions,” Escobio asserted. In 2006, the District Four contingent gathered 274 boxes of personal care products, a little over $3,400 in cash and gift cards valued at another $900.
And these figures far exceeded the first year’s totals in 2004 when Sharon Richmond, an HCSO civilian employee who was involved in volunteer efforts at the nursing home, initiated the drive at D-4. That first year the collection filled 28 boxes and 11 extra large bags, Escobio said.
Operation Patriot in past years also has involved local schools when teachers have introduced the drive to their students, he added, and the coordination team remains available to provide general information or an organization program speaker or a classroom feature as duty time permits. Escobio or Deputy Bobby Howard can be reached by telephone at 813-247-0455 and Richmond at 813-244-8403. The website address is www.operationpatriot.net.
Come November 11, 2007, though, team members will be in Land O’ Lakes delivering the results of the 2007 drive across South Hillsborough to the nursing home vets while they participate in Veteran’s Day commemorations there. It’s becoming a tradition.
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