MANVILLE, NJ - It was 14 years ago that Brendan Gallagher attended the inaugural packing event hosted by Operation Shoebox New Jersey in an empty storefront on Main Street Somerville with his dad Brian Gallagher, who at the time was the borough's mayor.
Brendan, who was 7 at the time, was one of several hundred volunteers who helped launch the volunteer organization's efforts to maintain a supply line of personal care packages to US troops abroad.
On Saturday, Gallagher, now 21 and a soldier in the US Army for 3 years, helped Operation Shoebox New Jersey commemorate its 14th anniversary during a packing event at the Manville VFW, along with his father, now a Somerset County Freeholder, mother Lisa and other family members.
Last year, Gallagher spent a six-month deployment with other members of the 1st Air Cavalry in South Korea, and received dozens of care packages from Operation Shoebox New Jersey, containing a variety of essential toiletry items, food and snacks.
He offered his thanks to the hundreds of volunteers who participated in Saturday's packing and described the joy he and his Army buddies experienced each time the care packages arrived.
The event was also attended by several members of the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights football team.
Operation Shoebox New Jersey saluted the memory of Linn Smith, a Navy veteran and longtime volunteer, who passed away on Veterans Day, 2016. He had been the president of the Canal Walk Veterans association; several members attended the packing, as did his widow Susan, along with other family members.
Operation Shoebox New Jersey, based in Hillsborough, has shipped over 153,000 care packages to US troops around the world since that first packing attended by the Gallaghers.
Further information is available on the website at opshoeboxnj.org or by calling (908) 698-0333.