A sizeable crowd gathered Saturday evening in downtown Effingham for a block party to support Operation Blackhawk.
The organization was founded in 2007 by local businessmen Paul Guttman, Boris Bonutti and Bob Lakin, along with veterans Bob Ferguson and Dennis Brown, to provide assistance to area military families left behind when the local U.S. Army National Guard were deployed overseas.
Bonutti said Operation Blackhawk recently became a 501©(3) organization.
“The organization is meant to support our deployed troops,” Bonutti said. “What’s unique about our program is when you donate money it can be dedicated to a certain community or certain group of deployed soldiers as opposed to where you don’t have control over where the funding goes.”
Bonutti said this month the group was unable to have its semi-annual cruise night that would have benefited Operation Blackhawk because of road construction downtown. So, the organization hosted a downtown block party instead.
Several local businesses donated products and services to the organization for an auction that took place during the block party, featuring several bands, some of whom donated their musical talents to support the organization.
Among those donating services to the organization, was Chris Keller, president of the Effingham Holiday Inn and Thelma Keller Convention Center, who is coordinating the development of an Operation Blackhawk website. Online donations can be made once the website is launched. The web address will be operationblackhawk.org.
Until the website is up and running, donations can be sent to Operation Blackhawk, PO Box 1227, Effingham, IL 62401.
As a member of Operation Blackhawk, local National Guard Platoon Sgt. Jeremy Wenthe believes the organization fills an important role in the community.
“The community of Effingham has been a great support to us,” said Wenthe, who is a member of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry of Effingham. “Bravo Company has deployed multiple times and we’ve always had the citizens of Effingham back us and support us.”
Wenthe said the biggest stress the deployed soldiers have is worrying about whether their families are doing OK back home.
“This organization is going to take care of them if they come into issues of financial need,” Wenthe said. “Whether it be a medical expense or some home repair.”
Bravo company is expected to deploy overseas again within the next year.
“We’re expected to deploy soon and it’s good to see an organization willing to help out family members while we’re gone,” said SPC Steven Psaras. “I am very grateful.”
“Absolutely,” added SPC Michael Killip.
The two are members of the Illinois U.S. Army National Guard West Frankfort Armory and were on hand to answer questions about two military Humvees they brought to downtown Effingham for the event. The West Frankfort Armory is a unit from the same National Guard brigade as Bravo Company based in Effingham.
Wenthe, who has been deployed overseas and spent many hours in a Humvee, took the time Saturday to explain to some interested kids how equipment inside the Humvee is used.
“This is a great organization,” Wenthe said. “And I’m in 100 percent.”