WESTFIELD- The Fire Department has collected more than 900 pounds of leftover Halloween candy to send to overseas troops as part of Operation Gratitude.
Operation Gratitude had its first drop-off station in Western Massachusetts at the Fire Department Headquarters at 34 Broad St. beginning Oct. 25 and ending on Nov. 5. During the Nov. 4 Fire Commission meeting, they said they had collected 813 pounds of candy to send to service members. By 3 p.m. the next day on Nov. 5, they had collected roughly 920 pounds.
Westfield Firefighter Travis Lucia, an Army veteran, is largely responsible for the fire department’s participation in the program. He collected candy from within the fire department last year, but chose to invite the entire community to donate candy this year.
“Last year we gathered 16 pounds from some guys in the academy, my family, and some close friends as well as some guys from the department,” said Lucia, “We mailed the 16 pounds to an organization called ‘Operation Gratitude’ who takes all this inundated, leftover Halloween candy and distribute it into care packages that they send all over the world, now including first responders just due to the sheer amount of donations they get.”
Lucia said that he would often receive similar packages throughout his year-long deployment in Afghanistan. He said that those at Operation Gratitude will typically send the candy in packages also containing basic hygiene supplies like toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap.
“Getting mail when you’re away from your family is huge. To get these gifts is huge,” said Fire Chief Patrick Egloff, who also served in the military.
Lucia, Egloff, and the members of the Fire Commission toyed with ideas on how to ship the candy to its destination. Shipping something of that weight would be expensive, and the United States Postal Service has a package weight limit of just 70 pounds.
Commission Chair Albert Masciadrelli suggested that Lucia reach out to the Air National Guard to see if they could ship it somehow.
Last year, when he participated on a smaller scale, Lucia included his son, who he said was more than happy to give away half his candy once Lucia explained the reasoning behind it.
Deputy Chief Eric Bishop said that on just Nov. 5, they emptied the collection box at least three times.
“It’s nice to see the community come out to contribute to a good cause,” said Bishop.
Lucia noted that he was motivated to start a collection point in Westfield because there are no other collection points in Western Massachusetts. The closest one to Westfield is south of Hartford.
Operation Gratitude will also take letters to send to troops alongside the candy. Lucia said that he and his fellow soldiers loved getting those kinds of letters while on deployment. They will also take cash donations to help pay for the cost of shipping the candy overseas.