Volume 13, Issue 34 ~ August 25 - 31, 2005

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photo by Carrie Steele
“I feel guilty bringing in Twinkies,” says Don Arthur, “but the nurses said the main objective is to get weight back on these guys. The junkier the better.” Every 10 days, Arthur brings a load of food and snacks for the recovering soldiers at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Stocking Up on Recovery
Twinkies and Ho-Hos speed recovery of wounded soldiers
by Carrie Steele

When Don Arthur stepped off the elevator onto the fifth floor of Bethesda Naval Hospital — the surgical ward for veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom — he wheeled a light, metal suitcase carrier loaded with bulk boxes of snack food.

“It’s almost the junkier the better,” said Arthur, who’s running the Snacks for Heroes program from his home in Lothian. “I feel guilty bringing in Twinkies, but the nurses said the main objective is to get weight back on these guys. One of the problems that all of them have is the insomnia. Something sweet helps them get back to sleep.”

Since 2003, Bethesda Naval Hospital has treated some 600 Operation Iraqi Freedom soldiers, according to Ellen Mauer, the hospital’s spokeswoman. That number includes non-combat casualties. Typically a dozen wounded soldiers are in the ward.

It took Arthur two loads to cart up all the boxes he’d brought in the trunk of his car: Welch’s juice bottles, Keebler cookies, Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies, M&Ms, Hi-C juice boxes, small bags of Doritos chips, cheese on wheat packs and oatmeal cream pies.

In the ward’s kitchen area, chilled and sterile-white, a water and ice dispenser hummed noisily under the bright florescent lights. Arthur wasted no time opening the snack boxes with a small pocketknife and placing them neatly inside two cabinets. Adjacent cabinets contained coffee sweeteners and bottles of Ensure, a vitamin health drink. On the door of his food hideaway, he posted a sign: Thank you veterans and families.

Arthur knows that the families appreciate his deliveries because he was there himself. His own Marine son-in-law was admitted to Bethesda Naval Hospital for surgery just last September. William D. Reavis, 44, from Tappahannock, Virginia, was injured flying a plane from Andrews Air Force Base to Quantico. The F-18’s brakes failed, and Reavis had to eject. He landed in a nearby marsh.

Reavis’ right hand is still recovering after skin grafts and replacement of an artery from one arm to the other.

“He’s doing great,” reports mother-in-law Lucy Arthur, Don’s wife. “He still has some scars, but he had a great surgeon there.”

Snacks Make a Difference
“What struck me,” said Arthur about his early visits to Bethesda Naval Hospital, “is that that when you would go to an Annapolis hospital, everyone there is from the area. For families and spouses to come to Bethesda, it’s an extreme hardship,” he said, because they’re usually from all around the U.S. “While the families and patients are there, there’s a lack of snacks. On the weekends and evenings, all the food shops downstairs are closed.”

During the long weeks of her husband’s two hospital stays, Arthur’s daughter Beth also saw the need. She appealed to her son’s school community to raise funds for stocking the kitchen.

“I thought that’s something I’d like to do, too,” said Arthur, a past president and active member of the Lothian Ruritan Club. Retired from computer sales, Arthur began his snack run for the wounded military and their families at Bethesda Naval Hospital in March. “We normally just do local projects,” he said, “but I thought that this would be a good thing.”

Arthur and his daughter figured it would take $100 to stock the kitchen cabinets for two weeks. So began a campaign of letters and word-of-mouth to other Ruritan, Kiwanis and Elks clubs, the Knights of Columbus and churches. Enough donations came to supply snacks through March, 2006. Arthur says he’ll continue on after that if he gets more donations.

This week, the Edenville Ruritan Club in Edenville, Pennsylvania, footed the bill.

Arthur doesn’t usually get to meet the recipients of his deliveries, but he knows the junk food runs deliver needed calories.

“Each load must be about 5,000 calories,” he says. “And when I go back at the end of 10 days, it’s all gone.”

The trips to the Naval Hospital take Arthur about an hour each way, battling beltway traffic
photos by Carrie Steele
Lucy Arthur fills cabinets of the snack room at the surgical ward for veterans. During weekends and evenings, the food shops at Bethesda Naval Hospital are closed.
and getting permission to pass through the gates, where they check his name off a list.

“At times you get stuck in traffic. Maybe you’ve got a lot of other things to do,” he says, “But just think about what these men and women are going through. Taking snacks is really nothing.”

Quiet Gratitude
As Arthur unwraps a case of Welch’s juice bottles to stock them one-by-one onto the shelf, a tanned woman with short dark hair and a slight accent enters the room.

“Thank you so much for doing this,” says Blanca Diaz of Columbia, South Carolina. She’s here because her son, Diaz Rocha, is being treated for injuries he suffered in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq. After a bone graft in his right foot, he’ll have to return to the hospital in November for a cornea transplant. In January he’ll return again for more surgery.

“Thank you so much,” she says again. “In the middle of the night we are hungry and come in.”
Comforts like these ease recovery.

“It does help,” said Wendy Philip, ensign nurse on the fifth floor. “One of the patients had come up from surgery, and wanted four Twinkies right away.”

Operation Midnight Snack
The hospital receives a lot of donations — clothes, food and tickets to area events — but only accepts items that will be used.

Packaged foods and drinks like these are welcomed.

As Don Arthur cuts around the top of a large, yellow bulk-size box of M&Ms packets, a hospital staff member pops her head in the door.

“We really appreciate this,” said the white-uniformed woman before speeding down the hall.

Outside the snack room, a doctor clad in aqua scrubs and yellow paper aprons passes by as a man wearing a hospital gown and in a wheelchair convenes with his family and another doctor. There’re IV units clustered in the hallway before the elevator and a Thank you heroes banner covered with Sharpie signatures on the wall.

Arthur’s drive slogs through beltway traffic three hours after he left his rural southern Anne Arundel County home.

But he’s satisfied.

To donate money to Snacks for Heroes in the Bethesda Naval Hospital’s snack room cabinets, call Don Arthur: 410-741-0276.

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