Sgt. Javier S. Amador
3rd Brigade Combat Team Journalist
As 3rd Brigade Combat Team Soldiers deploy, one of their responsibilities before they leave is to clear out their barracks. One Soldier and her unit’s first sergeant launched a program called Project Care to help deploying troops as well as members of surrounding communities.
Spc. Reeti Bhalla, an automated logistics specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd BCT, started the initiative Oct. 3 to encourage deploying Soldiers to donate unwanted items to charity rather than discarding them in the trash.
“Spc. Bhalla noticed that people around her in the barracks were preparing to deploy, and in that process, they were getting rid of items they didn’t want or need anymore,” said 1st Sgt. Chad E. Vangorder, HHC, 3rd BCT. “She saw this as an opportunity and came up with the idea to have a collection point where Soldiers could bring items they were getting rid of and give them to organizations that can share those items with others who may need them.”
Bhalla was further convinced that she had to pursue her idea when she received a comforter from one of the Soldiers who was packing up her room. She noticed the serviceable condition of the comforter, as well as many of the other items Soldiers were discarding. Bhalla was reminded of a similar experience she had during her last deployment.
“During my last deployment, I saw a lot of people throwing out good stuff as we were getting ready to come back,” she said. “I got to thinking that I really want to be able to collect all these things to give them to people who could really use them.”
After Bhalla told Vangorder about her idea, he agreed to provide organizational support and ensure there was an accessible collection point for donated items.
“Spc. Bhalla has identified a couple of organizations that would be willing to accept our donated items,” Vangorder said. “There are flyers posted around the brigade areas to let Soldiers know the location of the collection point and when they can drop off their items. Once we finish the drive, we will bring the items to the identified organizations.”
Bhalla’s grandmother instilled the importance of sustainable solutions. She was born and raised in Jalandhar, India, a state that lies along the border with Pakistan. Bhalla remembers the poverty and the shared sense of frugality in the community. People almost instinctively hung on to items until every last bit of usefulness has been extracted with practically nothing going to waste.
“As they say, charity begins at home,” Bhalla said. “My grandmother didn’t believe in waste, so if she didn’t need something, she would give it to someone who did.”
This strong sense of frugality grew into a passion for sustainable living practices and inspired Bhalla to study the subject in college.
“I feel that wasting things and not doing everything we can to conserve our resources is wrong,” she said. “I try to do everything I can to help conserve resources.”
Vangorder also feels strongly about conserving resources and helping people in need. He said he hopes Project Care will send a message not just to the Soldiers of his brigade, but to all Soldiers.
“There are so many items we get rid of every day that are in perfectly good shape, (whether) we want to upgrade, change a look, got bored with something or just never used once (we) got it,” he said. “We could save a significant amount of money by passing things on to others, and most importantly, help someone who may not have the means to get these things.”
Project Care was expected to end shortly before the brigade’s Soldiers depart for Afghanistan. However, both Vangorder and Bhalla would like to see the project grow.
“Right now, this is a program that involves just our brigade,” Vangorder said. “If every deploying unit in the Army had a similar program, we could help a tremendous amount of people.”
Once the drive is completed, items will be shipped to the Urban Mission in Watertown.
For Vangorder, who is originally from Utica, the program is about more than just supporting a local charity. He sees it as a way to strengthen the deep bond between Fort Drum and the local community.
“As a resident of Jefferson County for almost 11 years, I’ve watched this community bend over backwards in its support of Fort Drum and its Soldiers,” he said. “I’m glad that we can do something to give back.”