Band of Angels Gives It Everything They've Got

07/23/12

For the last five years, Maria Brown, her husband Pete and Angel Yolanda of Masthope Mountain Community in Lackawaxen Township, PA have dug deep into their own pockets for a special fundraiser for Soldiers' Angels but their efforts are now in danger.

It all began when Yolanda was working in a store and Maria & Pete would solicit for care package items out front.   With family history of military service back to the Civil War, Yolanda was keenly interested in their efforts.  Together they dreamed of doing much more than just soliciting items outside the store; Yolanda's husband is a professional musician and they would create a music festival to spread the word on the importance of troop support and fill care packages for the troops.

One day in 2008, the president of the local fire house walked into Yolanda's store and offered them the use of Fireman's Field for their festival.

The River Jam Music Fest was born.  All locals had to do to enjoy a day of great bands and honor for the troops was bring a care package item.  It was free to all active duty and veterans.  Maria, Pete and Yolanda did it all without sponsors, paying every cent of the expenses themselves and pulling the event together in just two months. 

On July 14, the trio of Angels held the Fifth Annual River Jam Music Fest.  "It's had its ups and downs," Yolanda says, but the focus on honoring the troops and educating people about how they can support them through Soldiers' Angels remains.  Each festival includes speeches and presentations about Soldiers' Angels, as well as displays and opportunities for people to directly support the troops. "We keep it about Soldiers' Angels and the great work of Soldiers' Angels."  This year emphasized Stand Downs and the Vet Packs. 

This year the Soldiers' Angels display was housed in its own pavilion and included a wall of pictures of the most recent fallen heroes printed onto foam boards.  During a special procession honoring the fallen, each person in the procession--which included veterans and active duty service members--carried the picture of a KIA from 2011 through the most recent.  The procession was followed by a playing of Taps.

This year 250 attendees participated in the concerts, food (made by Maria herself) and activities.  The event brought in $1,000 in addition to the care packages item donated at the gate.  Participants also wrote notes to the troops, most of which were sent to a military psychiatrist who posted them on the wall for her patients to read. 

Though $1000 is nothing to sneeze at and the notes are priceless for the heroes who will read them, this year was smaller that years past and that was a bit disappointing to Yolanda.  She soon found a reason why it was smaller:  many people don't know there's still a war going on.  "I didn't realize how many people thought there wasn't anyone deployed, until I started getting feedback about this year," she says.  

The realization that so many people didn't know about current deployments also drove home the importance of the River Jamto help people recognize the continuing sacrifices military personnel are making even when they're not on the news.  "Our military need our support, not just today, not just tomorrow but long-term," Yolanda says.  "My father has severe PTSD.  I deal with it every day.  My uncle served in Vietnam and was  injured.  Support for the troops is something that just burns inside of me and I can't let it go.  I want people to 'get' it."

Yolanda, Maria and Pete aren't letting ignorance and apathy discourage them, though.  "I'm just gonna keep on fighting until people get it," Yolanda says.  "There are great organizations out there but we can't continue without the support of the general public."

Congratulations to Yolanda, Maria & Pete for years of hard work that matter to each service member helped, and each citizen educated about the military's sacrifice in service!  Good luck as you continue to motivate your fellow citizens!

Unfortunately, this special trio of Angels can't afford to single-handedly produce River Jam again next year.  They're looking for sponsorship/support in order to continue this important work in their community.  If you know someone who could help raise awareness in Pennsylvania, email yoyob23@gmail.com