Operation Dropbox nets 8,000 pounds of supplies for veterans in McHenry County

McHenry County residents contributed almost 8,300 pounds of food and other items during last month’s Operation Dropbox donation drive.

What’s more, those who gave provided an opportunity for county officials to simulate the distribution of supplies during a public health emergency.

Operation Dropbox, now in its fifth year, helps veterans in need in McHenry County. Officials said last year’s donations totaled about 5,400 pounds, and the number of drop-off sites tripled from 31 last year to 87, McHenry County Department of Health community information coordinator Nick Kubiak said.

Veterans Path to Hope, a nonprofit that runs a shelter in Hebron, was the primary beneficiary of the donations.

Laura Franz, executive director of Veterans Path to Hope, said the drive, which provides food, household items and cleaning supplies, “makes a huge difference.”

Franz said there is a greater need for the food pantry because of rising grocery prices. She added that the organization writes grants to secure fresh foods and wants veterans and families who need a hand to ask for help without feeling embarrassed.

In addition to food and household items, Franz said Veterans Path to Hope offers complimentary and confidential counseling to veterans and their family members.

At the McHenry County Division of Transportation building outside Woodstock on Tuesday afternoon, McHenry County Medical Reserve Corps volunteers and health department staff members sorted out the donations, which doubled as a training exercise.

Bridget Hoffmann, the emergency preparedness coordinator at the McHenry County Department of Health, said the exercise was meant to simulate how the health department would get a shipment of personal protective equipment into the hands of McHenry County farmers and farmworkers to combat any potential cases of the H5N1 bird flu virus.

“Every year, we take a different scenario,” Hoffmann said.

Officials said they’re keeping an eye on H5N1 but noted there haven’t been any confirmed cases in the county.

Meaghan Haak, assistant director of public health nursing at the health department, said an emergency response grant requires the exercise and a full-scale exercise that takes a year and a half to plan, and it is a three- to four-day event every five years.

Susan Karras, director of public health nursing at the health department, said she thought exercises like the one officials went through Tuesday “helped us with” COVID-19.

Sue Reinhardt of the Medical Reserve Corps was among the volunteers packing supplies. Reinhardt said she’s a retired nurse and environmental health professional. She started in the Medical Reserve Corps during the pandemic, where she answered COVID-19 questions and helped with the vaccine clinic and contact tracing. Her work with the Medical Reserve Corps “keeps [her] really busy.”

Reinhardt said Tuesday that it was her third Operation Dropbox.

After the exercise, Veterans Path to Hope took some of the donations back.

Among those helping to transport the donations was Bill Bartlett. He said he first got involved years ago when he needed a hand. Now, he tries to pay it forward.

“They helped me out greatly,” Bartlett said.

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