Annual picnic to support American troops overseas scheduled July 7

Pictured at the 2011 picnic are (l-r) Shirley Herndon, vice president of Sunstate Bank; Freedie Ambrose; Leif Gunderson of Sunstate Bank; Louise Lockwood; Chris Himmel, former aide to Carlos Alvarez; Jay Lockwood, husband of Louise Lockwood, and Cutler Bay Vice Mayor Ernie Sochin.

Thinking of You Services will host its fifth annual picnic to support American troops overseas on Saturday, July 7. The event takes place from noon to 4 p.m. at the U.S. Coast Guard Station, 16001 SW 117 Ave.

Admission is free and there will be free food, entertainment, family fun, a bounce house for the kids and Bingo for seniors by CarePlus. The non-profit organization hosts the yearly picnic as an event to collect care package items to send free of charge to U.S. military personnel from any state who are serving overseas.

“It’s going to be fun; we’re going to have free giveaways, free T-shirts for the kids, a bounce house,” said Freddie Ambrose, founder of the event. “We’re going to try to make it as much fun as possible for the kids.”

Ambrose and his wife, Sonia, began Thinking of You Services in 2004 by sending cards to those in the service so no one would feel neglected at mail call, and discovered that military personnel overseas often needed personal care items they could not easily get. That’s how the care package program got started.

“We want people to bring care package items for the troops,” Ambrose said. “Life is very gray in the battlefield in that the- ater, and our packages bring a hint of color. It uplifts their spirits. It means a lot to them. I am a Vietnam veteran and I know what it is to be out in the battlefield and be so far away from home and longing for a touch of home. I know how it feels at mail call if you don’t get anything.”

Needed are coffee (16-ounce bags), energy bars, disposable razors, baby wipes, Pop Tarts, Slim Jims and socks. Each year, he and his wife wrap up packages of these items and mail them to service men and women in the Middle East and other places.

Ambrose said that the response has been heartwarming. A letter from Lt. Tristan Engler, one of many he and his wife have received, makes it clear how much the troops appreciate their efforts.

“I cannot tell you enough how grateful we are for all your group does for us to remind us of you all back home giving us your support,” Lt. Engler’s handwritten letter reads in part. “It truly does mean a great deal to us here in Kandihar. Thank you all for everything you do.”

This year’s theme is Latin food and music. Sponsors this year are Playville Party Rentals, InSource Insurance, Cutler Auto Repair, Country Inns & Suites, and CarePlus Health Plans.

Ambrose advises everyone planning to attend to use the entrance at SW 117th Avenue (Keypad 001), and to RSVP to him at 786-252-2798.

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