City of San Mateo welcomes veterans with anniversary event

This summer, nearly 100 veterans and current servicemembers with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division gathered in San Mateo to share stories, enjoy a banquet and parade, and even lead members of the public in boot camp calisthenics. The event was made possible in part by customized philanthropic support from Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

The commemorative celebration marked nearly 50 years since the City of San Mateo, at the suggestion of a resident, “adopted” the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army in 1969. The adoption was intended to demonstrate the city’s support of United States troops and foster a connection between soldiers, veterans and the civilian community by sending the company letters and care packages during their deployment. After fostering this connection for 50 years, the city had big plans for celebrating the 50th anniversary of the adoption.

After hosting a similar event in 2012 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Vietnam War, San Mateo City Clerk Patrice Olds understood just how much work went into planning an event of this scale, and the burden it put on her small team to host a parade, gala, festival and manage fundraising in addition to their full-time jobs with the city. In 2018, they enlisted SVCF to assist with processing donations and other operational details. "SVCF had certain processes and procedures already in place that were helpful, and we found it worthwhile to have the support of experts," says Olds. 

The 2018 Operation Eagle Visit Homecoming featured three days of family-friendly activities -- including a public bootcamp workout led by visiting soldiers -- and San Mateo hosted 50 troops and 40 veterans, as well as hundreds of participating San Mateo residents. Fundraising to support the event totaled more than $120,000. "We could not have made this happen without our donors," says Olds. 

A company consists of 85 to 120 soldiers and over the years, San Mateo’s care packages to the 101st Airborne have included everything from snacks, sunscreen and sparkling water to baby wipes, soccer balls, books and movies. "The requests from the soldiers have evolved over the years," says Olds, explaining that the company has been stationed around the world from Afghanistan to Somalia, and their needs vary based on location, season, etc. The city solicits community members for support when creating the packages, and tries to include handwritten notes and other personalized touches. 

"Good communication with the company's captain is important. We try to personalize the packages as much as possible and make the soldiers realize that they're not forgotten," says Olds. 

Eight other Bay Area cities, including Burlingame, Hillsborough and Millbrae, are now committed to supporting companies within the same brigade.

“Silicon Valley Community Foundation offers tailored solutions that can help your nonprofits and other organization make a positive impact through effective philanthropy," says SVCF Director of Customized Philanthropy Services Ashley Cash. "We're honored to work with inspiring community partners like the City of San Mateo."

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