Palo Alto residents honor veterans with gifts

More than 50 residents and businesses pitch in to make veterans' wishes come true

Carrie Manley leaned toward U.S. Army veteran Doug Tharp's hospital bed at the VA Palo Alto Spinal Cord Injury Center, the light in her eyes twinkling.

"Man, we brought you salt," she said, pulling a jumbo-sized bag of Lay's potato chips from a grocery bag with handles. Not one bag of chips, but two -- and two jars of dill pickles. It was just what Tharp had wanted for Veterans Day, he said.

"In here it's a lonely place sometimes. It's great to get visitors. It's always nice to get the smiling face," Tharp said, grinning.

On this Veterans Day more than 50 residents and business owners from Midtown to downtown and from north Palo Alto to the south took part in a drive to bring what Manley called "the little gestures (that) add up to a big thing" to veterans in the VA Palo Alto Health Care System's spinal-care unit.

Girl Scouts delivered milk shakes from Peninsula Creamery; kids from Walter Hays Elementary School made bookmarks and cards; Palo Alto High School art teacher Steve Ferrera's 10th graders made colorful banners and Bell's Books owner Faith Bell scoured her shelves in search of desired books. There were steak and lobster dinners donated by the Fish Market and flowers from Midtown's Nature's Alley. A book on living with multiple sclerosis requested by a vet was donated by Kepler's Books in Menlo Park.

Manley started the gift-collection drive three years ago when Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School held a Family Service Learning Day. Everyone contributed every way possible, and that was inspiring, she said.

She and husband Brian Goucher made their front porch "collection central" for the outpouring of community appreciation. On Friday Goucher, Manley, childhood friend Holly Chamberlain and sons Alex Chamberlain and Will Goucher wheeled a cart full of grocery bags for 15 veterans filled with the items they had requested. It was the first of three delivery trips Manley said she planned to make that day.

One man wanted a flowering plant to give to his wife when he returns home tomorrow; another had a birthday the day before and wanted a cheesecake to share and a couple of roses to give to his wife.

One of Chamberlain's favorite stories is of a young veteran who sustained a life-changing injury in Afghanistan. He was victim of friendly fire caused by a friend's bout of horseplay, she said.

Each day the young man's father makes the long trek from Martinez after work to cook a meal for his son. He stays the night on the VA campus at Fisher House, which provides a place to stay for veterans' families, before making the return hourlong trip back to work in the morning.

Veterans Day is the dad's birthday and the son asked for a German Chocolate cake, steak and lobster dinner and a birthday card he can give to his dad. "You should have seen his eyes light up. Now he gets to give something to his father," she said.

Several veterans who are big San Francisco Giants fans will get photos of their favorite players donated by the Sports Gallery on University Avenue, Chamberlain said.

Aaron, 56, an Air Force veteran, had only one wish: a single bookmark. But on Friday Goucher gave him two beautifully inlaid wood markers compliments of Bells' Books -- and a half dozen more bookmarks that are laminated expressions of appreciation from Walter Hays kindergarteners.

"These kids have never written in full sentences and we didn't tell them to. They were determined to write their thoughts," Manley said.

Aaron said he hadn't asked for much because he'd already stocked up. He made the four-mile round trip to Walgreen's on San Antonio Road driving down Arastradero Road sidewalks in his motorized wheelchair, he said.

"It makes me feel real good to be appreciated for serving our country," he said of the gifts and cards.

Manley looked toward her son.

"My gift on Veterans Day is to meet Aaron. I want a little bit of this man to rub off on my children," she said.

Chamberlain said this was her first year as part of the Veterans Day gift giving.

"There are always a million reasons not to do it," she said of one's busy schedule. "I thought, 'I really need to do it. I need to step out of my own stuff and help someone else," she said.

The boys, Will and Alex, pinned colorful banners from the high school students in the center's day room. T-H-A-N-K Y-O-U, they spelled out. Each letter was a different color and pattern. Below, the artists had signed their names.

Manley looked at the cart loaded with gifts and reflected on something she has learned after three years: The real gift isn't what's in the bags, but what is in hearts, and sharing time with the veterans is the best gift of all:

"What they ask for is so humble. That isn't really the gift at all. These are vehicles for the connection," she said. "I feel like we're the next-door neighbors. It's the neighborly thing to do."

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Karin Bloom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2011 at 7:12 am

This is wonderful.
I'd like to participate next year. Please let me know how.
Carrie Manley has been one of my heroes for years.
This again, shows me why.

Like this comment
Posted by Big Al
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2011 at 10:26 am

Why wait till next year? These folks are hear year round. Not to rain on the parade, but let's not forget that we reach out to these people each and every day of each and every month. Otherwise, it appears to be a perfunctory act, allowing the "givers" an oppurtunity to feel better about themselves. Do you think Jesus would wait till next year, let alone post pictures and a story about all the wonderful things he did?

Like this comment
Posted by How do we do it?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 12, 2011 at 10:46 am

Karin/Big Al,

Great ideas. How do I connect with the VA or with Ms. Manley? I tried calling the VA and looking and researching their website but from what I can tell, you can't just randomly visit a vet there if you are not family. Any suggestions?

Ms. Manley, if you are reading this, how do I get involved?

Like this comment
Posted by MidtownMom
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 12, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Ms. Manley .. I would like to help. Will you be doing a similar effort for Christmas/TG?

Like this comment
Posted by MMiller
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 14, 2011 at 11:07 am

There is also a website, USATOGETHER.ORG, put together by local high tech folks, to help injured service personnel with short term, modest needs. USAtogether verifies the need and service status before posting on the website and 100% of donations go to the service members. Injured service members can also go to this site to enter requests for help. You can see the stories and photos and subscribe to be notified when new requests come in. To date, over 700 service member needs have been met. has been featured on NPR as well as local media.

Like this comment
Posted by Cindy
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 14, 2011 at 12:40 pm

You can start at the main desk in building 100 (the hospital) when you walk in and ask who you can talk to to get involved. Depending on what you want to do - they are always looking for volunteers and donations. The other day a florist donated flowering plants and the volunteers were delivering to various units and people (not ICU because they couldn't have in there...but you get the idea). I've seen them hand out crocheted blankets to the vets. And while they give out combs/toothbrushes in the hospital, the quality is really bad. Volunteers help to push wheelchairs, help patients get from their rooms to x-ray or other parts of the hospital, deliver newspapers to their rooms. You can also donate books (bring them to the lobby - vets read them and return them like a lending library). You may even be able to help out at the Fisher House.

Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Paly has a volunteer program for their "special needs" kids. They get to volunteer 3 to 5 days a week in the afternoons. My daughter loves to work at the VA. She has hopes on being a doctor, but for now, this is the BEST to her!

Like this comment
Posted by Walt Hays
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 14, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Totally inspiring.

I' also like to participate in the next effort.

Walt (

Like this comment
Posted by Carrie Manley
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 5, 2011 at 3:27 pm

If you are interested in helping out sometime, please feel free to email me at
We are going up this Wednesday evening to help out at the annual Palo Alto VA Holiday Crafts-Making fair. I'm no Martha Stewart (!), but we are going to make some paper chains with the vets, and there are a lot of very talented community volunteers who bring some great crafts projects to share with the vets. It is a beautiful gathering! The program runs from 5pm to 9pm and you can come for all or part of it. Volunteers of all ages welcome!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Don't be the last to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Palo Alto, rejoice. Mike's Cafe is back.
By Elena Kadvany | 5 comments | 2,279 views

Premarital and Couples: Musings on Life
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,632 views

Why we are Warming
By Sherry Listgarten | 30 comments | 1,562 views

Cap On? Cap Off? The Cities Respond
By Laura Stec | 4 comments | 1,290 views

List for a new baby
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 409 views