Two years ago, Tracy Della Vecchia of Columbia launched a Web site for the families of Marines. Today, she spends up to 10 hours a day working on the site, helping thousands of people in what has become an online support group.
Della Vecchia said the Web site — MarineParents.com — has 9,350 registered members, and she estimates it receives more than 4 million hits a week. The site has grown so much it needs a staff of 48 volunteers to maintain it.
“This turned into something much bigger than I dreamed of,” Della Vecchia said.
Della Vecchia and other volunteers put in more than 600 hours a week working on the Web site.
Their work has not gone unrecognized.
In 2003, Della Vecchia was nominated for the Spirit of Hope Award, an award commissioned by the USO to recognize those whose dedication to the armed forces matches that of the late comedian Bob Hope.
Kathryn Ostapuk, a volunteer for MarineParents.com, was honored with the President’s Volunteer Service Award by President Bush in a California ceremony where Della Vecchia’s son, Marine Cpl. Derrick Jensen, was a VIP.
Jensen was the reason Della Vecchia launched the site.
Two years ago when Jensen and the rest of India Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, were deployed to Iraq, Della Vecchia turned to the Internet for information. But when her efforts proved futile, she decided to put her Web-design skills to use.
“I started this Web site because I couldn’t find one place to find all the news I wanted to learn about the Marine Corps,” she said.
The Web site provides “a place to connect and share” and has been a source of support for thousands of Marine Corps families.
Della Vecchia soon will need some of that support. Jensen will return to Iraq in January for the third time.
Della Vecchia is always trying to find ways to help Marines and their families.
She forwards 35 to 40 greeting cards a week to injured Marines across the United States. She also added several new programs to the Web site, all aiming to make the lives of Marine Corps families a little easier. Visitors to the Web site can browse through databases of regional support groups as well as get contact information for different units.
“The Web site has brought a lot of people together,” Jensen said. “I am really proud of my mom. She has done great things through the Web site.”
Della Vecchia recently launched a new “care package” project on the Web site that allows families and friends to request that a care package be sent to an individual Marine. The program is known as the MarineParents.com Care Package Project and is dedicated to the memory of Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas Larson.
Larson, 19 of Wheaton, Ill., was killed in Iraq on Nov. 9, and his family requested that donations be made to MarineParents.com. The project took off from the money raised.
“It was something that Tracy had wanted to do for a while,” said Greg Green, the coordinator of the project from Beaumont, Texas.
Della Vecchia said that even before the project took shape,she was getting packages at home. “I did not know what to do with them,” she said.
The Department of Defense no longer accepts “Any Service Member” mail and requires a specific name and address. The MarineParents.com Care Package Project does not give out names and addresses of Marines. Instead the packages are mailed to the facilities of the Web site. Donors can include a note for the Marine.
Once received at the Beaumont, Texas, facility, the volunteers sortthe packages, repack them and ship them to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“A lot of junk gets sent over there, so we have a very condensed list of what we accept and ship over there,” Della Vecchia said. The program is also unique because it sends one package every month for the duration of the deployment.
Marines look forward to receiving these packages, Jensen said. “Sometimes I don’t have anything and I will get a care package and it will have exactly what I need.”
The program began Dec. 5, and Della Vecchia said the response has been tremendous. She has received 210 requests so far. The first shipment of 180 packages went out Monday.
MarineParents.com is requesting donations of items and mailing charges so they can keep up with requests. People who want to donate can go the Web site and fill out a form. MarineParents.com will contact them so they can ship donations. to any of the three locations across United States.
Della Vecchia said it’s important to donate shipping charges.
“It costs $17 to $25 to mail each package. You do the math,” Della Vecchia said.
Della Vecchia does not plan to expand the Web site to other branches of the armed forces.
“It has already grown into immeasurable proportions,” she said.