People Who Make a Difference

U.S. soldiers

Staff Writer

People Who Make a Difference U.S. soldiers’ plight spurs woman to action

U.S. soldiers’ plight spurs woman to action

FARRAH MAFFAI staff Marlboro resident Andrea Mesh spent most of 2003 organizing efforts to support American soldiers serving in Iraq.FARRAH MAFFAI staff Marlboro resident Andrea Mesh spent most of 2003 organizing efforts to support American soldiers serving in Iraq.

Project S.O.S. has received wide support from

the community and

thanks from troops


Staff Writer

MARLBORO — Andrea Mesh’s eyes still flash when she describes the letter that sparked her to begin helping American soldiers and their families.

"Shortly after the war in Iraq began, I read a letter in a newspaper from a soldier’s mother who wrote that the [al-Qaeda and Taliban] prisoners at Guantanamo Bay [in Cuba] were complaining about their living conditions, but they got three square meals, clean clothes and enough sleep," Mesh said.

"Meanwhile, she wrote that her son had gone a month without a shower, had not slept, and had no running water. The prisoners were being treated better than our soldiers. That made me angry," Mesh said.

After the mother of a local soldier told Mesh that she was forced to send sand goggles to her son, who was stationed in the Iraqi desert, Mesh sprang into action

"I started a large drive for products needed by soldiers with the cooperation of Marlboro and [Greater Media Newspapers]," said Mesh, who called the operation Project S.O.S. (Support Our Soldiers).

Marlboro Township collected donations from individuals, while the News Transcript wrote articles about the effort, which helped to spread the word, Mesh said.

Mesh did most of the rest of the work, communicating with soldiers to find out what they needed, soliciting donations from area businesses, and shipping the products to Iraq. The shipping costs were paid for by the Marlboro Cultural Fund, Mesh said. Recently, Mesh found a partner, Andrea Brandt, who has helped collect donations from area merchants.

"The town of Marlboro has been very supportive of Andrea, with total unanimity. All the merchants she has contacted have given her donations," said Mesh’s husband, Harry. Susan Levine and Angela Cipoletti from Marlboro Township’s Office of Public Information, News Transcript Editor Mark Rosman, Brandt, and Denise Kaplan of Frame Decor, who has framed pictures of soldiers and their families free of charge, deserve special thanks, Mesh said.

Mesh has sent a wide range of products overseas to soldiers from the area, ranging from food to CDs to baby wipes that the soldiers used as substitutes for showers.

As the soldiers have begun returning home, some on a permanent basis and some for short periods of leave, Mesh has been soliciting gift certificates for the soldiers from various area businesses. "This shows them that the whole town supports what they’re doing," Mesh said. "The soldiers are not getting a big hurrah or welcome-home celebration, since they’re all coming home at different times. They’re fighting a war, risking their lives, and by giving them gift certificates, I wanted to show in a small way that we really appreciate the sacrifices that they’ve made," Mesh said.

Project S.O.S. has not neglected the needs of soldiers’ loved ones.

"The soldiers’ families are feeling stress. They thought their loved ones would be in and out [of the war]. It’s been a tremendous hardship on these soldiers’ families. The soldiers are deployed in such a dangerous situation and their families are very aware of what is going on in Iraq because of the news media," Mesh said.

Mesh and Brandt have worked to al­leviate the families’ stress in a variety of ways. They have obtained free massages, manicures and haircuts for soldiers’ loved ones. Metro Salon in Marlboro, for ex­ample, offered free haircuts, pedicures, manicures and catering during a one-day open house on Mother’s Day for soldiers and their families. A company volun­teered to clean leaves from the gutters of a soldier’s home and another company removed snow from soldiers’ driveways at no charge. Soldiers and their families have also received free meals at restau­rants and free car washes, Mesh re­ported. Thanks to a group of knitters from Marlboro’s Greenbriar retirement community, as well as Project S.O.S., sol­diers have been given homemade afghans, mittens and hats.

Mesh’s greatest single feat came in November, when, within one week, she obtained all the products requested by the family of a Newark soldier, Sgt. Joel Perez, 25, who was killed in Iraq last month. Perez left behind a 21-year-old wife, Milagros, and an 18-month-old daughter.

Mesh was able to send children’s bed­room furniture, a new car seat, clothes, a stroller, a color television, towels and toys, all free of charge, to Milagros. Some people donated items in response to an article in the News Transcript about Project S.O.S.’s drive to help the Perez family, while Mesh solicited other products on her own.

Soldiers have written heartfelt letters of thanks to Mesh for all of her work. In a recent e-mail, Sgt. Daniel Hollinger wrote, "You’re a silent hero. I never really knew, never spoke to you, but yet you went to such an extent to look after me and my fellow soldiers. In my heart that means a lot to me, that kind of makes you part of the family. Everything you have been sending here has been perfect for the soldiers and [me]."

Hollinger also wrote that he had a special attachment to his grandmother.

"Maybe you could just let my grand­mother know how much I miss her," Hollinger wrote to Mesh, who said the letter made her cry.

Originally from Valley Stream, N.Y., Mesh has lived in Marlboro for 29 years. She and her husband founded and previously owned the Smith Bros. clothing store in Marl­boro. Mesh has two children, Adam and Joanna, who both work in the financial field.

Mesh has had previous volunteer ex­perience. She helped operate a thrift shop that raised funds for the American Cancer Society, and provided job training to co-op students at Marlboro High School for 10 years.

There are other factors that have mo­tivated Mesh to volunteer on behalf of America’s soldiers. Her father was a soldier who was saved by caring people. While serving in the Air Force during World War II, her father’s plane was shot down over Italy.

"He was in the water for 12 hours and he didn’t know if he would be rescued. The British rescued him and he was hid­den in Italy and helped to escape. If it wasn’t for other people helping him in Italy, he wouldn’t be here today.

"Also, I am a mother and a wife, so I empathize with how the soldiers’ families feel," Mesh said.