Troops benefit when kids give back

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published November 16, 2015

 Dr. P. Steven Wainess stands with volunteers Nov. 1 during the candy buyback.

Dr. P. Steven Wainess stands with volunteers Nov. 1 during the candy buyback.

Photo provided by Dr. P. Steven Wainess

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — While many children try to stretch themselves to cover as many blocks as possible on Halloween, hoping for a huge stash of candy, the truth is, many parents won’t let them keep all of that loot.

That’s where local dentist Dr. P. Steven Wainess comes in, and troops benefit from his generosity.

This is the Harper Avenue dentist’s fifth year hosting a candy buyback event after Halloween to benefit Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit organization that sends care packages to troops.

“It’s great; every year it’s gotten bigger and bigger,” Wainess said.

A week after he collected the candy, the most he’s ever collected at 925 pounds, the treats — along with letters and pictures created by children who came to donate candy — were boxed up and ready to be sent to California, where Operation Gratitude is based.

Emily Rich, director of National Development for Operation Gratitude, said care packages are sent to active-duty troops, veterans, wounded warriors, first responders and new recruits. Each individually addressed package, she said, contains hygiene products; entertainment including books, magazines and DVDs; paracord bracelets; candy; and up to five letters from children to the troops. 

The organization sends about 150,000 packages each year and has sent 1.3 million out to date. Operation Gratitude began collecting candy in 2005 as a sweet treat for the troops, who many times pay it forward.

“Sometimes our troops who are deployed will actually give the candy to the kids in the villages where they’re deployed,” Rich said. “It’s a humanitarian effort as well.”

In collecting the candy, Wainess creates a daylong event where children can bring in their candy and be paid a dollar per pound that they are donating, write a letter or draw a picture to be included in the care package, have cider and doughnuts, get a balloon animal, and also check out many military vehicles brought by local museums and staffed by local veterans. Veterans also talk with the children about their military experience and the joy they felt when they received care packages like the ones the children are helping to fill.

Wainess spends more than $1,000 each year on the program, between about $400 and $500 in dollar bills to the kids, about $500 and $700 for shipping, and then the cost for the balloon designer, doughnuts and goody bags. But he said it’s worth it.

The veterans and military vehicle enthusiasts who volunteer to help with the event love it as well, he said. More than 30 volunteers, including some of Wainess’ own patients, help to make the day possible.

“We have people who drive 50 miles in the cold in a Jeep with no top and no sides to (let children) sit in them,” he said, plus Civil War re-enactors and Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln impersonators. “They love it. 

“There are so many families around here with servicemen and women in their families, (and) you don’t get many opportunities to give back. It’s giving back to the service people that protect us.”

“It’s amazing how many people want to volunteer,” agreed Kim Kotts, the office’s front desk coordinator. “They think it’s just such a great thing.”

In 2011, the event brought in 275 pounds of candy. The dentist collected 424 in 2012, 616 in 2013 and 755 in 2014.

“It’s a good teaching tool for children that you don’t need all this candy for yourself,” Wainess said. 

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