Even bad weather couldn’t stop the Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski II Memorial Fund’s holiday celebration at Pemberton Early Childhood Education Center earlier this week.
And that’s a good thing.
The event, held each year in honor of Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski II, who was killed in Iraq in 2005, serves to honor his memory and to provide gifts for children of deployed soldiers.
Marion Zilinski, co-founder and board member of the Zilinski Memorial Fund and Dennis’ mother, was pleased to see the group was able to hold its annual event.
“The internet and phone lines were down at this school, and another school in the district is closed due to the weather, but here we are with so many families and children celebrating the holidays — all of you deserve to be celebrated after all,” she told the crowd.
“These kids give so much to the citizens of the United States by giving up their moms and dads, and we are indebted to you all. We want these children and spouses to know how much we appreciate their sacrifice. When a mom or dad is deployed, it’s hard on the families left to pick up all the pieces at home. We are happy to make their holidays a little brighter.”
The celebration included a buffet breakfast with quiche, roasted potatoes and French toast for these children of deployed troops who attend Pemberton Early Childhood Education Center and Fort Dix Elementary School. The Memorial Fund donated gift cards to the preschool students, who also received stuffed toys thanks to a partnership with PetSmart. Additionally, parents registered for the event each received gift cards.
Amber Monteverde, a mother of two whose husband is deployed in South Korea and not scheduled to return until March, said the impact of the event hits home in many ways.
“It’s nice to be with people who are going through the same thing, especially this time of year,” she said.
Kylie Matthews, her husband, Kyle, and five of their six children attended the breakfast.
Kylie Matthews said she has experienced its significance firsthand.
“This program brought me some joy last year when I attended with my kids when my husband was deployed in Kuwait,” she said. “It got me through. It is exactly what I needed because I was struggling. Listening to you and all you have been through made me realize that I could do it, that I would be OK and somehow be able to get through it, too. We went through really hard times last year financially, and the gifts you gave us helped us put food on the table, and we can’t thank you enough.”
There were some families who could not attend because of the weather. The Zilinski Memorial Fund is working with a school coordinator to ensure the gifts are delivered to their homes.
The event also takes time to honor Zilinski, who was killed in action in Iraq by a roadside bomb in 2005, when he was 23.
A fund was created and founded a year later in his honor. Zilinski was a Middletown resident, a Christian Brothers Academy alumnus, a distinguished West Point graduate and a member of the 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division. Since his untimely death, family and friends have united with the Memorial Fund to provide support to improve the morale and welfare of members of the Armed Forces and their families.
One of the main accomplishments of the Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski II Memorial Fund is sponsoring service dogs for disabled American veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. To date, the Zilinski Memorial Fund has sponsored more than 100 service dogs.
Additionally, the Zilinski Memorial Fund provides scholarships to students at Zilinski’s alma mater, Christian Brothers Academy.
To learn more and donate, click here.