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Operation Ollis: Sending hundreds of holiday packages to US troops

Holiday packages for the troops (US Navy/WikiCommons)

Not everyone can be home for the holidays.

But thanks to the collaborative efforts of two Staten Island schools, a local nonprofit and the United States Postal Service (USPS), hundreds of U.S. troops will receive holiday care packages as a reminder of the support back home.

The SSG Michael Ollis Freedom Foundation partnered with PS 56 in Rossville, Paulo Intermediate School (I.S. 75) in Huguenot, and the USPS for the inaugural Operation Ollis initiative, sending over 200 care packages to active U.S. service members in an ongoing effort to show appreciation and give back to those who serve our country.

“One of the things we try to live by are Michael’s biggest mottos, ‘deeds not words’ and ‘lead from the front,’” said Gerri Hojnacki, Operation Ollis organizer. “He always gave back, in every aspect of his life, so we’d like to continue that message in his honor by remembering the troops.”

The SSG Michael Ollis Freedom Foundation was established in 2014 in honor of the late Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, a New Dorp native who died at age 24 while saving a Polish soldier in Afghanistan.

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“It gives Bob and I a very good feeling,” said Linda Ollis, Michael’s mother. “Since we can’t do anything for Michael, we can certainly help his fellow servicemen and women by making their Christmas a little bit happier.”

Both schools collected extensive donations, creating custom care packages that included common toiletries, like toothbrushes, foot powder and Chapstick, as well as cell phone cards, allowing service members to call their families during the holidays, and flash drives, giving them a place to store their memories. Over 175 cell phone cards were provided, free-of-charge, by Cellphones for Soldiers, a fellow nonprofit organization benefiting military members.

“The schools both got a list of the things that the troops asked for and the donations just kept pouring in. The amount of generosity from the faculty and the children has been really outstanding. More than we could have ever imagined,” said Hojnacki.

Students also included handwritten letters in each care package, thanking the troops for their service and wishing them a happy holidays.

PS 56, the Louis Desario School, has a special connection to the late staff sergeant and was the first school onboard to help get Operation Ollis off the ground.

In the years prior to his untimely death, Ollis became military pen pals with a member of PS 56, sending back photos and letters from his time in Afghanistan that hang in the school’s lobby to this day.

“We wanted to do something for veterans because our school’s namesake, Louis Desario, not only was he a lifelong educator, but he was a veteran,” said Philip Carollo, principal of PS 56. “In working with his family we came to know that, to him, the best part of his life was his service to the country and we wanted to honor that.”

“We reached out to the Ollis Foundation and we were happy to work with them to donate care packages to active service members,” Carollo continued. “We’re extremely proud of the generosity that our school community showed.”

In future years, the Ollis Foundation would like to expand Operation Ollis to include additional Staten Island schools, potentially encompassing the entire district. If your school is interested in participating in future Operation Ollis events, please contact the Ollis Foundation here.

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© 2019 Staten Island Advance