Coast Guard members help feed the homeless in Philadelphia

by Petty Officer 3rd Class Crystalynn A. Kneen

PHILADELPHIA – The cinder-block walls of the cafeteria were painted an antique yellow. A tattered American flag hung in the doorway of the small table-filled area. The clanking of silverware and utensils overwhelm the undersized kitchen quarters. The limited serving domain was brimming with aluminum containers filled with a variety of nourishing foods donated to the cause.

An assembly of men of all walks of life patiently waits their turn, out the building, around the corner and down a busy street in central Philadelphia.

This building holds a sign tall and proud, which states clearly: Saint John’s Hospice seeks to be a community grounded in faith and service where homeless persons find dignity, respect, nourishment and opportunities for a new beginning.

A group of Coast Guard members from Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay in Philadelphia, and Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, N.J., have volunteered their time to engage in providing the comfort and assistance for Saint John’s Hospice, and serve the homeless during the lunch hour.

“Saint John’s Hospice offers a variety of services to homeless men in the Philadelphia area,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Michael J. Goglia, a member of the facilities engineering department at Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay in Philadelphia.  “They serve lunch daily, offer a mail program, help with resumes and counseling.

Goglia has been in charge of organizing the community relation with Saint John’s Hospice for over a year and also organizes a clothing drive for donations to the hospice.

“The group of Coast Guard volunteers participate once a month and help serve food and fill water during lunch,” said Goglia.

The volunteers usually serve anywhere between 200 to 400 people in an hour.

“I recruit volunteers from the Sector most of the time,” said Goglia. “Some are repeats but today we have some volunteers from Atlantic City, so I’m hoping to expand to our other stations, cutters and Aids to Navigation teams in the area to be part of this experience.”

Coast Guard members who volunteer in the community build good relations to the general public by not only serving their country but serving their local communities.

“I think volunteering as a Coast Guard member is something to look forward to,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Brieanne M. Gregory, a logistics team member at Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay in Philadelphia. “A lot of people don’t know what the Coast Guard does. Part of our job is to help people on the water, and off.”

Maximum participation in the local community by Coast Guard active duty and Coast Guard reservists is strongly recommended.

“We as Coast Guard members have an obligation to our communities,” said Goglia. “To be hands on with the community has always been within our job frame, so we volunteer at Saint John’s Hospice.”

Gerry Huot is the Volunteer Coordinator for Saint John’s Hospice in Philadelphia and deals one-on-one with Goglia and the Coast Guard volunteers.

“Having the Coast Guard as part of the mission is wonderful,” said Huot. “It offers people hope and gives them something to look forward to.”

The hospice serves a diversity of men from the disabled to veterans, to help them break the chain of homelessness.

“When the Coast Guard volunteered here, I thought it was an absolute perfect fit,” said Huot. “A lot of the veterans really appreciate seeing the Coast Guard. It’s a connection for them.”

In the same way, the appreciation of this opportunity is also seen from the volunteers.

“Whenever I volunteer I feel really good about myself,” said Gregory. “I believe it makes me a better person.”

In addition to just volunteering, the Coast Guard has always been trained in equal opportunity and diversity, which makes this community relation a success.

“The Coast Guard volunteers have always presented themselves in a professional manor,” said Huot. “They are genuinely themselves. They measure the greatest of dignity and respect with smiles and hello’s to all of our people. I have never been around a more wonderful group of people. They show a softer side when they are here. It’s not the hard-core military you see in the movies.”

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