IHRA, Nitro Jam provides a little Christmas spirit to veterans
Nitro Jam Media
Dec 20, 2011
Sometimes a little Christmas spirit can go a long way.
In 2006 when a small group of friends and co-workers at the Department of Defense got together to help provide Christmas dinner for the veterans of the Spinal Cord Unit at McGuire Veterans Hospital in Richmond, Va., little did they know just how far that act of generosity would go. That year the group met and fed a small group of about 60 vets that either didn’t have anywhere to go for Christmas or were unable to leave for the holidays.
Labeled a success, the group was asked soon after if they would be willing to provide the Christmas luncheon once again the following year. Without hesitation, the group agreed and the very next year they fed over 200 veterans and wounded soldiers, a huge jump due to the overwhelmingly positive response they received from the previous year.
“Six years ago we started feeding the veterans here at our local hospital a Christmas luncheon and it was a huge success. It wasn’t long after when we were asked if would be willing to do it again the next year,” said Thomas Czaplicki, a longtime member of the IHRA family. “In 2007 we ended up feeding over 200 veterans and today has become a celebrated tradition at the hospital. It is uplifting to see so many people come together for a good cause. We are only 25 friends and co-workers and when we were planning this we thought it would be one person we could pick and buy for and that is when we got the request if we could have a party for the entire unit.
“What could we say but yes. We each give out of our pockets and we requested donations from local businesses. We cook the food, serve it and clean up. It is tiring, but at the end of the day we walk away with the most rewarding feeling one could imagine.”
From its humble beginnings in 2006 to the huge celebration it has become, the Christmas luncheon has become an annual tradition with staff, volunteers and veterans looking forward to the celebration year round. Today the get together not only includes food for over 300 veterans and their families, it includes Santa himself passing out gifts to those in attendance.
“As the event continued to grow we began giving out gifts as well. Many of these gifts are donated by local businesses and others around the country and it is a big part of this celebration,” Czaplicki said. “A few years ago we had a young lady with five children who could not get them gifts for Christmas. Luckily we had gifts leftover for the children and we had Santa come out. To see the smile on their faces and hear what they had to say it was both heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. Sometimes you forget how a small act can mean so much to others.”
This year, the seventh anniversary of the event, the group had their biggest turnout yet. About two dozen volunteers once again cooked and provided gifts to the veterans including four Colonels who escorted Santa from room to room.
In addition to food and gift donations from local businesses and grocery stores in the area, Czaplicki’s racing family leant a helping hand this year as well. In addition to hats, shirts, posters, cups and other items donated by the International Hot Rod Association, IHRA Nitro Jam race teams including Mike Manners, Bob and Cathie Floch, Peter and Ashbey Gallen, Greg Jacobsmeyer, Mike McIntire, Rick Krafft and others all took the time to donate various items to the Christmas celebration.
“We have so many people that help and without their generosity we wouldn’t be able to have such a wonderful event,” Czaplicki said. “To all the people that donated their time, money or gifts, I commend you for your generosity. This was another awesome event for the people that deserve it the most. We are so proud of our troops.”
Already a celebrated tradition at McGuire Veterans Hospital, Czaplicki looks forward to seeing this event grow and admits that he is already looking forward to seeing everyone’s smiling faces once again in 2012.
“It is something I look forward to all year,” Czaplicki said. “These men and women gave so much and this is a small gesture to say thank you.”