Suffolk County Corrections Officer Robert Sorrentino watched with awe last week as women older than he worked like machines on an assembly line and prepared care packages for troops as part of a volunteer group called Operation Veronica that works out of St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church in Rocky Point.
Sorrentino serves in the Air National Guard as a technical sergeant out of the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton and has routinely flown military aircraft in state and federal missions, supported space shuttle launches, flown in rescue missions with hurricanes Irma and Maria and was sent to Djibouti, Africa, during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2010. Still, he couldn’t help but be impressed by the group’s energy.
“It’s really efficient,” Sorrentino said. “I’ve been on the receiving end of getting care packages, and it’s awesome — its greatly appreciated.”
Multiple members of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, including Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr (D), visited Operation Veronica during its regular Friday meeting a few days after Veterans Day. Members of the department helped put together boxes of care packages, which can include snacks, toiletries or other personalized items that can give a little bit of comfort to men and women stationed overseas.
Nearly every Friday since 2005, close to 20 women spend several hours putting together care packages to send to troops stationed overseas.
Janet Godfrey, a Wading River resident and founder of the group, explained to their visitors how they pack boxes under a certain weight to avoid excess postage fees. Volunteers also showed the sheriff’s department staff how they create survival bracelets out of 550 paracord, the same rope used for paratroopers during World War II, and polar fleece sweaters for soldiers out in deserts that may become freezing at night.
Greg Thompson, a deputy sheriff who is currently a reservist machinery technician for the U.S. Coast Guard, was also impressed at the skill and attentiveness of the women at Operation Veronica.
“I think this is amazing, absolutely fantastic,” he said.
Toulon called the group extremely efficient in, “not only just the assembly line, but the coordination of the organization, and really it’s just the effort — to say to these vets we’re thinking about them, we’re caring for them and we’re praying for them.”
He expects the sheriff’s department to collaborate with Operation Veronica in the near future, by either donating goods or assisting in getting the boxes shipped abroad.
In 2018 TBR News Media recognized Operation Veronica as one the newspaper’s People of the Year. Since then, Godfrey said the group has picked up steam and is still managing to send out hundreds of items week after week.
“We are busier than ever,” Godfrey said.
Funding is always difficult, especially in the shipping department, though the women of Operation Veronica often donate their time and buy their own goods to go in the boxes, as shipping can be upward of $70 for a heavier box.
“The women in this room come in to work, they do everything out of their own pockets,” she said. “They have passed the hat to pay postage at the end of the day.”
Godfrey had some good news, though. She said the Port Jefferson-based Richard & Mary Morrison Foundation has agreed to pay for the costs of shipping, which the Operation Veronica founder said can be as high as $10,000 to $12,000 a year.
“They have promised to pay our postage however high it goes,” she added.
For more information about Operation Veronica, visit www.operationveronica.org/.