Novato steps up to help Coast Guard families in need

A supply drive for Coast Guard families has succeeded beyond expectations, with distribution set for Saturday Jan 19 in Novato. 

Household supplies, food and toiletries will be available at 227 S. Oakwood Drive from 9 am to 12 pm, to anyone who can provide military I.D. and current station location.

Thousands of items are organized and stacked in an upstairs conference room at Coast Guard temporary housing.  

Friday evening, some of the volunteers who sorted the donations were able to get a head-start on their free shopping. 

"I feel blessed, I feel relief," said Julia Freeman, after she filled several grocery bags with a variety of items.  

Freeman's husband has been a Coast Guard engineer for 14 years, and they have four children. 

"He is under stress too, we are all under stress, so this is a big help," said Freeman gratefully. 

73 Coast Guard families live at Hamilton Field, a former Air Force Base, now redeveloped. 
The personnel report to stations around the region, including San Francisco, Petaluma, Vallejo, Rio Vista, and Bodega Bay. 

The Coast Guard motto is "Always Ready", but there was little preparation for the government shutdown, and the paychecks that failed to arrive on the 15th of the month. 
"This time we were surprised, and waiting for someone to come to the rescue," said Freeman, "and we didn't know if someone was coming." 

42,000 active duty personnel are working without pay, because they fall under the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense. 

In the North Bay, their "rescue" rose up all around them.     

"We're very excited, we collected this in less than 48 hours," said Jennifer Harris-Marks, arriving with an SUV stuffed with paper towels, toilet paper, diapers, and more. 

Her load of supplies came from a donation drive at San Rafael's Mary Silveira School.

"There are people in need and we're going to help them," said Harris-Marks, "and it doesn't matter why, there's no politics involved. Our neighbors are in need so we're going to reach out." 

Meghan Wood, Secretary of the North Bay Coast Guard Spouses Club, organized the supply drive on Facebook, modeling it after a similar effort in Alameda. 

"Not getting paid was rough," admitted Wood, "and we have kids. We want them to live a normal life."

The avalanche of support, which also includes gift cards, surprised her and all the volunteers. 

"We are kind of secluded here at Hamilton and to know that Novato, Marin, San Rafael have come out for us is very humbling" said Wood.

"We've had people say 'you've helped us, let us help you, you've always had our backs, let us have yours now."

Every item in the makeshift store is one less expense on a tight budget.    

"Without a paycheck, the money that we do have is going toward necessity bills, " said Coast Guard spouse Chelsea Eeisbrenner, "so it's unbelievably stressful and just the uncertainty - how long will our savings last, how long can we ride this wave out?"   

For as long as the shutdown lasts, supporters say they will be here. 

"We're grateful for everything they've sacrificed. And for us, this is the least we can do to say thank you," said donor Harris-Marks, departing with hugs and a promise of return trips to replenish the stock. 

We're not going anywhere," said Harris-Marks", "this is round one, only round one."   

In addition to the donations on Saturday, the S.F.-Marin Food Bank will set up a free farmers market with produce and poultry, and the Marin Humane Society will offer pet supplies. 

The Coast Guard has personnel in a variety of stations including San Francisco , Petaluma, Bodega Bay, Vallejo, Rio Vista, and Monterey.

All are welcome to select from the donated items.