For A Greater Cause | Operation Open Arms
This month is the kickoff for Living Local’s new initiative, For a Greater Cause. Not only will we introduce you to one of the many deserving local charities, but also make a monetary donation on behalf of our advertising partners to its mission, hoping to in turn inspire you to give back. Operation Open Arms.
Since we celebrate Memorial Day is this month, it seemed fitting to name Operation Open Arms (OOA) as our inaugural For a Greater Cause recipient. The non-profit organization provides complimentary Southwest Florida vacations and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder care for service men and woman returning from combat and foreign duty.
The organization was founded in 2005 when Army Specialist Travis Downes asked Captain John “Giddy Up” Bunch where to fish before returning for his second deployment in Iraq. Instead of giving Specialist Downes directions, the fishing captain volunteered to take him.
Eleven years later Bunch was awarded the Outstanding Civilian Service Award for his tireless work supporting the troops, the third highest public service honor the U.S. Army gives to civilians.
Army Specialist Tiana Ruano is one of the more than 3400 troops OOA has assisted through the generosity of local businesses. Upon her recent return from Kuwait Ruano spent a weekend at Silver Sands Hotel and dined at Matanzas on the Bay. She says, “Being able to stay at beach all weekend was a much needed reset of me.”
She gushes, “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put into words how grateful I am for what he (Capt. Bunch) does and the people and businesses like him. We need stuff like that, it’s hard on us and a perk like this is a like a weight off of our shoulders.”
Over the years OOA has also had the joy of helping service members get married along with the heartache of planning memorial services for those who died too soon; including 20-year old USMC Corporal Thomas Joseph Jardas. The Cypress Lake High School graduate was killed in a helicopter crash off the coast of Hawaii last year.
Jardas’ father Tim says as soon as news broke that his son was missing, Capt. Bunch was at his door. He says choking back tears, “When this stuff happens it’s overwhelming and to have someone locally that knows who to call and talk to…I would’ve been lost.”
OOA helped secure accommodations for the family members who flew in at a moments notice, provided food, arranged bag pipes, a helicopter fly over and other moving details for the young soldiers memorial service.
The grieving father says Capt. Bunch has been like a brother to him; sharing his heartache, and like a father sharing his wisdom. The support kept and continues to keep Jardas grounded. He credits OOA, Bunch and his faith in God for getting him through his darkest days.
Support Operation Open Arms May 27th, from 11am-10pm at Matanzas on the Bay located on Fort Myers Beach. They will be hosting the Fourth Annual Bluegrass, Brew and BBQ, hoping to break last year’s fund raising record of $7,000.
To learn more about Operation Open Arms or to make a donation, please visit OperationOpenArms.com or call Capt. John Bunch at 239.822.8888.