By Greg Hanlon
Last month, Courier Life reported on the tireless and noble efforts of Charlie Gili, a youth hockey coach from Brooklyn who launched a grassroots fundraising drive in November to benefit families of New York State soldiers killed in the war in Iraq. The program – called “New York State Hockey Players Support Our Troops” – raises money by selling “Support Our Troops” patches to be placed on hockey jerseys and equipment bags. Gili’s efforts have focused on reaching out to youth hockey leagues throughout the state in an attempt to outfit as many players as possible with patches. At the time of the first article, Gili had raised around $11,000. One month later, the money had doubled to $22,000. He estimates he has sold 6,000 patches, each of which goes for $5 apiece. (The $22,000 total reflects the approximately $8,000 in expenses Gili has put in, most of which comes from the $1 he pays per patch.) “It’s been going really good,” said Gili, who in addition to the volunteer time he puts in coaching and raising money, also serves as Chief of Operations for the Brooklyn Division of the Parks Department. “My projections have gone up drastically since [the first Courier Life article]. Initially I thought it would be winding down by now. But we’re going to be going strong at least for the next couple of months. It would be foolish to pull the plug at this point,” Gili said. “In the end, without too much trouble, we should have $30,000 to $35,000 to give away,” he concluded. In addition to youth hockey leagues, Gili has also reached out to professional teams throughout the state. In early February, players from the Long Island Waves, a team from one of the many area leagues Gili is connected with, sold patches at the Nassau Coliseum during an Islanders game. Before that, Waves players held the nation’s flag during the singing of the national anthem. Gili also has connected with minor league Rochester Americans. The Americans invited Gili upstate for a press conference and pledged to wear the patch. Gili started the small operation in his living room to remind both himself and his fellow New York State residents about the continuing toll of casualties in a war that is now nearly five years old. “I have tremendous respect for the people out there that are fighting and their families. It’s peoples’ brothers, sisters, sons and daughters,” said Gili. “I get to go to this hockey tournament without being worried about where my son is. But New Yorkers just like me have to answer the phone every day not knowing what that call is.” As of now, Gili does not yet know what he wants to do with the money when the drive concludes later this year. He says he wants to give families no less than $1,000 each, and wants to focus first on families with small children who may have lost their father or older brother. “Out of everything, that’s going to be one of the most difficult things to figure out,” he said. Gili is hopeful that people will appreciate the value of his cause regardless of their opinions on the war itself. “Whether or not the decisions that have been made to this point have been right or wrong, I don’t know. But I’ve tried to stay away from that in this campaign and just focus on the guys in harms way,” he said. One of the benefits of this fundraising drive, he said, is learning about the soldiers who have lost their lives. “I’ve read every available obituary on every single New York State soldier. I find myself reading these things and coming to tears,” he said. Those interested in contributing “New York State Hockey Supports Our Troops” should go to www.nyshockeyplayerssupportourtroops.com, or contact Charlie Gili at email@example.com. Gili encouraged hockey and non-hockey players alike to pitch in. “You don’t have to be a hockey player to be involved in this,” he said.