Patriots make a difference with pizza
Story and photos by Sgt. 1st Class Neil Simmons/174th Infantry Bde Public Affairs
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST – Soldiers serve their country every day. But a photo posted on March 3 on social media of an anonymous First Army Soldier giving pizza to the homeless highlighted this commitment at the community level.
Cpl. Derno McCary, observer-coach/trainer with the 2-312th Regiment, 174th Infantry Brigade, used his off-duty time to hand out food to the homeless in Camden, N.J., March 2. The pizza was purchased with donations from members of the 2-312th out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. Richard Saenz, 2-312th Regiment, 174th Infantry Brigade)
Sgt. Richard Saenz, observer-coach/trainer with the 2-312th Regiment, 174th Infantry Brigade, serves slices of pizza to the homeless in Camden, N.J., March 2. Saenz, originally from Camden, collected donations from 2-312th Soldiers to purchase the pies. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. Richard Saenz, 2-312th Regiment, 174th Infantry Brigade)
The Soldier in the picture was Cpl. Derno McCary, observer-coach/trainer with the 2-312th Regiment, 174th Infantry Brigade.
The image, which generated thousands of hits and hundreds of positive comments in a couple days, was taken by another observer-coach/trainer, Sgt. Richard Saenz, also with the 2-312th. The two volunteered their off-duty time on March 2 to hand out dozens of pizzas to the homeless in Camden, N.J.
“I was there when Sgt. Saenz came up with the idea,” McCary said. “I told him I would definitely go with him. The reception that we got was outstanding, but I was just doing my part… It felt good.”
Saenz, who grew up in Camden, witnessed the hardships these people experience while working as a state employee in the city. Seeing a friend helping those in need years later motivated Saenz to find ways that he too could give back and make a difference. He organized the pizza delivery with considerable donations and support from his unit.
“It was fun to do, watching people’s faces light up,” Saenz said. “People would tell me that they hadn’t had pizza in years.” Saenz and his 2-312th team leader, Sgt. 1st Class Randall Nieves, made another night-time food delivery to homeless compounds in Camden on March 5.
Despite the cold, several people emerged from snow covered, makeshift tents to greet the Soldiers and thank them for their service. Saenz and Nieves handed out boxes of fruit and dozens of loaves of bread to the grateful recipients.
“What (a Soldier) does reflects greatly on the Army, so when Sgt. Saenz came up with this idea our whole team supported him,” Nieves said. “There are things here we can do, we need to help people here.” Saenz and the 2-312th team hope to continue making deliveries. Numerous friends and relatives of Soldiers in the unit have offered to contribute money and supplies to aid in their efforts.
“You’ve always got to try to do something to make people feel better. That is part of a philosophy I have been trying to work on,” Saenz said.
Asked why he posted the picture online, Saenz remembered how his friend inspired him to help.
“I didn’t want any recognition…I just wanted to pay it forward,” Saenz said. “Hopefully somebody else will want to do something to help.”