“My brother’s friend, Giles Clark, who is a Marine, is there for the second time,” Jillian Bianco, 19-year old sophomore, referring to the reason for her motivation to begin “Support Our Troops,” a fundraiser to raise money for American troops in Iraq, said. “He had the choice to stay here because he is a lieutenant, but said that he didn’t want to leave his men,”
“I was inspired by his bravery,” Bianco said. “I thought wow, these are the kind of people we have over there.”
After speaking with Clark, Bianco, a psychology major who is also in the M.A.T. program, wanted to find out how she could help, so she began doing research on the Internet.
“I started trying to find men and women from Connecticut who didn’t have any friends or family,” Bianco said. “That’s how I found the USO.”
Through the USO (United Service Organization) website, she learned that much of the soldiers’ mail had been frozen.
“Due to heightened security, only approved care packages are allowed to be delivered to the troops,” Bianco said. “I also found out that the soldiers only get mail when the fighting isn’t too bad.”
In response, Bianco decided to raise money to send care packages through the USO’s “Operation Care Package.”
She secured a table in the student center and, with the help of friends and Alpha Chi Omega, dedicated numerous hours to collecting money and dorm storming.
“We made almost $300 dollars just in Irma!” Bianco said.
She handmade yellow ribbon pins and large paper ribbons for donators to sign and hang up around the student center. In a few, short weeks she sold out of 500 paper ribbons and 600 of the pins.
“The response has been amazing,” Bianco said. “One girl gave me $20 and I just started crying. People don’t realize that even their spare change makes such a difference.”
Every $25 buys one care package. Bianco raised $1,072.61, enough to make nearly 50 packages.
“[The care packages] contain essential items and things that the troops requested,” Bianco said. “They have things like lip balm, sunscreen, snack foods, newspapers, magazines, basically anything that’s not too heavy so that they can carry it in their packs.”
Despite her modesty, the fundraiser has made Bianco somewhat of a celebrity on campus.
“People come up to me on the street and say ‘Oh you’re the girl who’s doing the stuff for the troops,’ and they give me money, it’s unbelievable,” Bianco said.
Even though the fundraiser has consumed most of her time, Bianco insists that her efforts will not stop now that she has successfully raised the money.
“Over break, I want to hand-deliver the check to the USO’s center in New York,” Bianco said. “Also, they send letters along with the packages to the troops, so I’m trying to get people to write letters now.”
“Support Our Troops” is not the first charitable work that Bianco has done.
She is also an active volunteer with CAP (Community Action Program) where she participates in the organization’s “Best Buddies” program, and, since she has a brother with Down Syndrome, Bianco has also volunteered with the ALDS (Association for Children Living with Down Syndrome). At home, Bianco performs community service through her church by working at various food shelters.
In the future, she hopes to become even more involved.
“I really want to get involved with the Habitat for Humanity,” Bianco said.
Bianco credits both her brother and other service-committed individuals as her inspiration.
“A lot of my involvement has to do with my brother,” Bianco said. “The reason that I am the person who I am today is because of him.”
She feels that the impact the packages will have on the troops will be well worth all of her hard work.
“Just knowing how they’ll respond [to the packages] and having them know that they have our support makes everything worth it,” Bianco said. “I hope that knowing people care at home will make it easier for them.”
To make donations or find out how you can help, contact Jillian Bianco at [email protected] The United Service Organization’s website is www.uso.org.