1,000 care packages sent

Cathy Praino’s nephew Chris, a national guardsman and Bronx firefighter, died four years ago in Iraq. Praino and Bronx County American Legion Commander Colleen McCarthy have shipped more than 1,000 care packages to the Middle East since. Photo by Victor Chu

Cathy Praino, still grieving her soldier nephew’s death, snipped a phone number from the newspaper and called Colleen McCarthy.

Four years and more than 1,000 care packages later, Praino snipped a phone number from the newspaper and called Paul Golluscio. Her living room is a warehouse, her purse stuffed with coupons. Praino can’t stop giving. After all, her nephew gave his life.

Praino, McCarthy and Golluscio participate in Adopt-a-Platoon, a non-profit effort dedicated to American troops at war. They send candy and cards to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I write to the troops,” Praino said. “I write, ‘This is Aunt Cathy. I’m a Yankees fan. I’m old enough to be your grandmother, but I’m young at heart.’”

Golluscio’s Samuel Young Legion Post 620 recently adopted the 3rd Squadron of the 10th Mountain Division’s 71st Cavalry Regiment, stationed in Afghanistan. Golluscio has packed off beef jerky, raisins and chewing gum.

Last month, Praino offered Golluscio a set of Yankees t-shirts. Before Easter, Golluscio will ship the squadron marshmallow Peeps. The 3rd Squadron conducts surveillance and reconnaissance operations. Troops have asked Golluscio to mail Little Tree air fresheners; it gets stinky in their tanks. The troops are also fond of Crystal Light lemonade.

“These are kids 19 and 20 years old,” Golluscio said. “When they come back to camp, anything that reminds them of home makes them happy.”

Praino’s nephew, Chris Engeldrum, a Co-op City firefighter and national guardsman, died when his Humvee came under attack outside Baghdad.

Praino goes shopping most nights. She watches the Yankees on T.V. and cuts coupons. Girl Scout cookies are always a hit. Chocolate is dangerous; it melts. Soda pop, canned fruit, baby wipes, lotions – Praino is a walking, talking grocery list.

“I also send puzzle books,” Praino, a Waterbury Avenue resident, said. “The crosswords keep them busy.”

Praino and McCarthy pack football magazines for the jocks, fishing magazines for the outdoorsmen, hot rod magazines for the mechanics.

“Kathy is wonderful,” McCarthy said. “There’s a flat rate – $10 a box. We stuff every box to the gills.”

In 2008, McCarthy and Praino adopted Lt. Kyle Sullivan’s platoon. Sullivan, a 26-year old St. Louis native, was stationed in Kirkuk, Iraq. He and his buddies received more than 30 boxes of snacks and toiletries.

“I was always really impressed,” Sullivan wrote in an email. “When they sent boxes…they sent a lot of boxes. Saying thank you would be an understatement.”

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