By Karen Blackledge
The Danville News
MAUSDALE — Community members have rallied to support returning deployed military personnel and their families.
A call for desserts for a special dinner — to honor about 400 soldiers and their families Dec. 15 in the Danville Armed Forces Reserve Center — was answered quickly, according to Pat Florey, who coordinated the effort.
“Everybody has been very cooperative,” said Florey, who expects 65 cakes, dozens of cookies and fudge to be delivered the day before the event.
People from the community have also collected money to pay for the dinners of the family members.
The military personnel, who are from all over the state and include local residents, are attached to the 3rd Battalion 103rd Armor Regiment of the Pennsylvania National Guard.
National Guard officials preferred not to disclose the exact number of soldiers expected to attend the dinner.
The military personnel spent nine months in Kuwait with the last of the soldiers returning home in November. Others had been deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and Germany, Parsons said.
“We have been here at the reserve center for two years and this is the first interaction with the community,” said Staff Sgt. Bryan Parsons.
“Once the community found out, they wanted to help out wherever and wanted to know our needs,” said Parsons, who recently returned from serving nine months in Afghanistan.
The government will pay for the dinners of the military personnel from the center, which includes men and one woman, Parsons said.
Parsons, the dinner organizer, said soldiers will be in dress uniforms.
The community is now collecting money and gift cards from businesses to give to the families of the military personnel.
“We are putting on a drive until Dec. 11 with the churches and businesses asking them to give us gift cards or cash that will be converted into gift cards,” Florey said.
The Danville High School Key Club has been distributing flyers about the collection.
Florey said the theme of the dinner will be “The Unsung Heroes,” which includes the soldiers along with their families while they are deployed.
“Families go through a lot of stress we don’t realize,” she said.
Donations can be made to a Hero Fund set up at FNB Bank offices.
Another volunteer, Pat Donato, has been getting gifts for children who will attend the event. Parsons estimates there will be 80 to 90 children ranging from 6 months to 17.
Danville American Legion Post 40 donated $1,500 toward the cost of dinners for the families. Good Samaritan Mission Center contributed $1,000 for that cause as well.
Florey previously served as chairman of the mission center. Riverside Mayor Dale Erb, who has been helping, serves on the mission board and also is a veteran.
“Joan Miller is contacting people to raise funds,” Florey said.
The event begins at 11:30 a.m. A visit by Santa Claus is expected around 1 p.m. Santa will be a volunteer from the community.
“I wanted to do a nice dinner for the returning soldiers and their families. This will be their first drill weekend back with their unit and the dinner will be a way of welcoming them back,” Parsons said.
Goodwil’s Restaurant of Montandon will cater the meal.
The National Guard Family Readiness Group received a monetary donation to buy door prizes to be given to adults and children attending. Parsons and his wife, Belinda, picked out gifts for door prizes with the funds.
“This definitely would not have been possible without community support and there is great thanks for that,” Parsons said.
He said his unit tries to hold a dinner once a year but this one is special since the National Guard members are being honored for their recent deployment.
“I know how this affects families. I was gone for the better part of three and a half years of my son’s teenage years,” said Parsons, of Williamsport. His son, Specialist Cody Parsons, served in Kuwait. He is assigned to National Guard Co. D of Williamsport.
The only other community-related event at the reserve center was an open house held after the center opened.
Military personnel from the center assisted people in the area affected by the September 2011 flood.
“People need to be reminded that they are not just here for military duty — if there’s a crisis in our area they are the first on the scene,” Florey said.
The reserve center also houses two U.S. Army Reserve units and another Pennsylvania National Guard Unit.
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