Care packages can be a thoughtful blessing for soldiers stationed abroad, so one Bronx resident has sent thousands of them, personalizing them for soldiers in honor of her nephew. NY1’s Erin Clarke filed the following report.
Catherine Praino’s friends call her living room "The Warehouse." In 11 years, she has boxed nearly 5,000 care packages and sent them to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"You see my note. We’ve got the comics. We’ve got toothbrushes," Praino said. "We get everything in there."
Praino started the mission in 2004 after her nephew, city firefighter and Army Sergeant Christian Engeldrum, was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
"I can’t do it for Chris. When we get a new platoon, I tell them I lost my nephew and I’m adopting them," Praino said.
Now, Aunt Cathy has thousands of military nieces and nephews who receive goodie boxes with handwritten notes. Sometimes they write back.
"'Dear Aunt Cathy, you can’t know how special you’ve made me feel, because in the bottom of one of the boxes was a bottle of nail polish,'" one letter read. "'I’ll probably stay up late tonight to enjoy a little treat. That means so much.'"
It's gratitude for a job that is not always easy for the 73-year-old and her volunteers. But when Praino thinks she cannot do it anymore, she uses her lost nephew as inspiration.
"We have his picture here that I move around all the time and I talk to him every day,” Praino said. "And when I get depressed and I look down and say, 'Chris, I'm tired,' and he tells me with that smirk and those eyes, 'Keep going. They need you.'"
But for Praino to keep going, she says she needs help. People donate items like toothpaste and eye drops, but it is expensive to send packages to Afghanistan.
"We have to spend $15.90 each box to mail it," she said. "Now, times 4,800, that’s quite a bit."
State Senator Jeff Klein has stepped in to give Praino some money and to make his office a drop-off point for donations. He also plans to highlight her efforts at Sunday’s Veterans Day breakfast in Throggs Neck.
"It’s a perfect opportunity for everyone to know about what Cathy is doing, pitch in and help," Klein said.
After the breakfast, the Bronx Veterans Day Parade will kick off at East Tremont and Lafayette Avenues. Praino says she’ll take part atop a fire truck.
"Come and wave to me," she said.