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    Rucksacks to Backpacks

    Rucksacks to Backpacks

    Photo By Sgt. Khristen Kunig | Christine Ree, the operations manager for the USO of Western Pennsylvania, greets a...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Brigitte Morgan 

    354th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

    In the face of uncertain times, the newly formed USO of Western Pennsylvania provides hope to families sending their kids back to school. The USO’s “Rucksacks to Backpacks” program helps families by providing essential school supplies to children of service members.

    USO volunteers held the backpack program underneath the shade of open-air tents at the Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, Aug. 8, 2020. The volunteers were ready to help each child choose their favorite color backpack, markers, crayons, glue sticks, composition books and even some homemade cookies and ice cream.

    “We realize this is a challenging time because a lot of kids don't know if they're going back to school,” said Christine Ree, the Western Pennsylvania operations manager for the USO of Moon Township.

    Due to COVID-19, some of the service members’ children will be returning to school either online, in-person or a hybrid combination of the two. Ree explained that regardless of the platform school is on, the students will still have schoolwork to do and will need the provided supplies.

    “It’s sooo heavy!” exclaimed Zachary Yonushonis, a soon-to-be second grader from Moon Township, as he fumbled with the arm straps of his new dark gray backpack. Despite returning to school online, Yonushonis explained he was most excited to read more LEGO character books this year.

    The USO is well known for their support of service members and their families by passing out comfort items, food and offering a variety of programs.

    According to Ree, the USO Office in Western Pennsylvania opened in January of this year and is the first of the organization’s presence in Pittsburgh since 1947, when the prior branch was closed due to the decline in foot traffic after the war.

    “So now, here we are all these years later, happy to be here making a presence in western Pennsylvania,” said Ree, who explained the service region extends from the southern border of the state, north to Erie and as far east as Johnstown and Altoona.

    The backpack program was first held in 2019 when volunteers were laying the groundwork to establish an official office. The program was successful enough to allow volunteers and donors the ability to increase the number of backpacks provided to 200 in addition to extending the program to stations outside of Allegheny County.

    “I think this program give these kids some kind of anchor of normalcy during these times,” said Dan Pfeifer, a USO Volunteer and local resident of Moon Township. “It gives something tangible to these young kids to be able to put their best foot forward and be excited to learn.”

    Ree said this was the first event they were able to host coming back from COVID-19. She stated the event was successfully attended with service members and their families from all branches benefiting from the school supplies.

    “We’re very blessed with some strong and dedicated and passionate volunteers,” said Ree. The program took a significant amount of behind-the-scenes work to organize the donors, publicize the event, sort the supplies and fill the backpacks.

    “It might not have been everything they needed, but at least it’s a start. So, it’s [because of] those kind of things that I felt joy in my heart,” said Linda Horner, a volunteer with the USO, described the rewarding feeling of handing out backpacks to the children.

    The USO of Western Pennsylvania looks forward to bringing more events and services to the area and invites service members to follow their Facebook page for future events at:



    Date Taken: 08.08.2020
    Date Posted: 08.11.2020 11:53
    Story ID: 375732
    Location: CORAOPOLIS, PA, US 
    Hometown: BRIDGEVILLE, PA, US
    Hometown: CARNEGIE, PA, US
    Hometown: CORAOPOLIS, PA, US
    Hometown: PITTSBURGH, PA, US

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