More than three years after 20-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. James Stack was killed while serving in one of the most violent places in Afghanistan, his family carries on his legacy with an annual food drive to benefit troops.
On Sunday, American Legion Merle Guild Post 208 in Arlington Heights was filled with packaged food, DVDs, magazines and toiletries to be packed up and shipped overseas. Items included everything from beef jerky and Ramen noodles to baby wipes.
The effort was spearheaded by Stack's parents, Robert and Linda Stack of Arlington Heights, his mother-in-law, Dawn Hedrick, and her husband, Tom Hedrick.
Tom Hedrick said items collected in last year's drive filled 335 boxes.
"I was overwhelmed with tears of joy," Linda Stack said of the support shown by the community for the collection effort.
This year's drive began April 21, with collection boxes placed at various locations across the Northwest suburbs, including banks, a bowling alley, a state representative's office and California Pizza Kitchen restaurants, Dawn Hedrick said. California Pizza Kitchen provided food for Sunday's packing event, when the collected items were readied for shipping, and Allstate also played a crucial role in the drive, she added.
Among those helping with the effort was a former Marine Lance Cpl. Roberto Despoiu, 22, who works at the downtown Arlington Heights California Pizza Kitchen.
"I know a lot of my buddies that are out there, they would love this stuff," he said. "The baby wipes? They would love those, that's for sure."
Laura Jackson, general manager of the California Pizza Kitchen in Deer Park, said that she had began involving all of her restaurants in the Chicago market in the effort last year when she was regional sales manager.
"How I look at it is it's a small thing that we can do for our men and women (in the service)," she said. "I picture them out in the desert wishing they had a Tootsie Roll or a little something to wipe their face."
Hedrick's daughter, Joanne Savage, 16, involved her classmates at Buffalo Grove High School as well, by providing collection boxes for teachers to place in their classrooms.
"I had to bring stuff home four times because our box was full," she said.
Dawn Hedrick told fellow volunteers that the event is reminder of the importance of supporting the troops and thanking the veterans who served.
"If we don't support our troops, who will?" she said. "We are very lucky to wake up in America. Look around the world. Watch the news."
Hedrick said James Stack's daughter Mikayla, is now 4. His widow, Katie, has remarried and now lives in California.
Anyone who wishes to make a contribution can contact her at email@example.com.