Unilever has always been an ardent supporter of veterans, and the company’s steadfast support of men and women in uniform is especially evident in its racing endeavors with JR Motorsports.
Adopt-a-Soldier Platoon, the creation of Alan and Mary-Edna Krutchkoff, is a big part of that support, caring for active-duty forces as well as those who have been wounded in service to their country. The couple carries out this mission of love and support from their home in New Jersey, along with Unilever and a dedicated group of benefactors and volunteers.
Adopt-a-Soldier Platoon will be featured on the No. 7 Unilever Chevrolet driven by Justin Allgaier during Memorial Day weekend in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The car features a unique olive-drab paint scheme with black accents and the Adopt-a-Soldier Platoon logo on the hood and lower quarterpanels. Its website (aasp.vet) appears on both the lower quarterpanels and on the TV panel. Unilever adorns the quarterpanels and shares the decklid with a decal celebrating the company’s support of the United States Armed Forces Commissary since 1867.
Alan, a retired Unilever manager and Air Force veteran, and Mary-Edna, a nurse, came to begin Adopt-a-Soldier Platoon somewhat—and quite literally—by accident in 2003.
“We started when Mary-Edna was a school nurse,” Alan said. “She calls me at work–I was working for Unilever Bestfoods. She was in the parking lot and her car had gotten hit. The lady who was driving the other car, one of the school’s custodial staff, had a lot on her mind. Her son-in-law was going to Iraq.
“That was about two weeks after we had invaded Iraq, in early April 2003. My anger instantly changed to empathy, and I went over to a buddy of mine and said, ‘hey, this sergeant in the 82nd Airborne is in Iraq. Why don’t we ‘adopt’ this kid and send him stuff?’ That’s how it started.”
From a single soldier, Adopt-a-Soldier Platoon grew in scope, adding soldiers and continuing the mission.
“We never meant for it to become a charity, but because we worked for a big corporation, people would come up to us and say, ‘hey, my brother, my cousin…,'” Krutchkoff said. “In a couple of months, we had four or five adoptees and about 25 or 30 supporters, who would give me some money and I would go to the company store and buy stuff and we’d send it to them. I said, ‘hey, we’re the size of a small platoon. Let’s call ourselves the Adopt-A-Soldier Platoon.’ That’s how the Platoon came about.”
What started as a way to help a friend and co-worker remains a very tight group, Krutchkoff said.
“We’re all volunteers. Nobody gets a salary, nobody gets any special privileges…we just do this for the love of our country. That’s how we operate since Day One. We’re a small to medium charity, $500,000-$600,000 a year charity, and that’s about as big as I want to it to be. It’s a lot of work.”
Having Unilever on board with Adopt-a-Soldier Platoon is a game-changer. The company, one of the largest consumer packaged goods corporations in the world as well as a cornerstone partner of JR Motorsports, provides warehouse space in Cresskill, N.J. for the Platoon’s needs. “They give us an aisle at the storage facility, both sides top to bottom, and we will go and fulfill from there. We’re very grateful to Unilever. I’m a Unilever retiree. Kurt (Hall) and his team have been very generous, as has Unilever corporate. I bleed Unilever blue.”
In addition, AaSP is the official care-package arm of the Special Forces Charitable Trust, Krutchkoff said. “For the 75 different units we support, there’s only 15-20 cartons out to the troops on a four-week rotation, but we’re constantly sending stuff. We work from home, and Unilever doesn’t let strangers in the warehouse, so I do it with a colleague, our packing director Diane.”
With Unilever as the main benefactor, the Krutchkoffs also enlist others to help the mission. A trucking company provides distribution at no cost. A supermarket chain donates lots of food items. A medical equipment company contributes $25,000 every year toward AaSP’s annual gala.
“We’re very fortunate that we’re able to do what we do because of these benefactors, supporters and volunteers,” Alan said.
Mary-Edna, whose maternal family is directly related to that of President Abraham Lincoln, fulfills a vital role within AaSP—caring for wounded veterans on a personal basis.
“I work with wounded folks, and that’s a huge part of what we do,” she said. “We have what we call grants, and we help anyone who has a DD-214 that shows they served, along with a VA rating. We provide them with whatever they might need as it pertains to their healing, and I make it very clear to them that could be emotional and psychological healing, not just physical.”
With the number of veterans at risk in the country today, there is no shortage of veterans and their families to support. Sometimes it is in the area of mental health, and quite often there is material support that is needed just as much, she said.
“We’ve purchased a couple of riding lawnmowers for triple amputees who just want to cut their own grass. We’ve helped out with adaptive vehicles, things like that,” Mary-Edna said. “We got a front-end loader for a double amputee who is a farmer.”
The main thrust of AaSP’s support in this endeavor comes on the mental side.
“Our help is to prevent suicide,” she said. “We’ve lost too many. We’ve had guys be at our house, and then three weeks later they are gone. I can’t even begin to describe the toll it takes on the families and, quite frankly, on us.
“We can’t fix it all but we can make things a little better for those who need it.”
With her medical and psychological training as the head psychiatric nurse at one of the largest hospitals in New Jersey—and the empathy that all such personnel employ—Mary-Edna has a pipeline from the Veterans Administration and other organizations she uses to provide her assistance. “Some of them don’t know what they need, can’t articulate what it might be,” she said. “I can help them identify how we can intervene and make their lives a little better. We’re dollar-for-dollar, we like keeping it small, enough to have a connection. I follow up or they do later on. It’s important. That’s where some larger organizations don’t help like we can.”
One of the other Unilever-backed initiatives in this realm, Camp4Heroes, appeared on the No. 7 Chevrolet with Allgaier this past season at Charlotte during Memorial Day weekend, and the Krutchkoffs and Adopt-a-Soldier Platoon are avid supporters of Captain John Woodall and his group.
“We have been huge supporters of Camp4Heroes,” Alan said. “Woody Woodall and I have become very good friends, brothers from another mother so to speak. We or our partners built all three cabins on the property, the pier and the gazebo, the outdoor kitchen and contributed to the barracks that they built there and a picnic shelter. We believe in Camp4Heroes.”
The Adopt-a-Soldier Platoon supports far more than just a platoon these days, with steadfast support from Unilever and its benefactors, and the Krutchkoffs will get to see the fruit of their labors in a tangible, real-world sense in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway on JR Motorsports’ No. 7 Chevrolet.
— JR Motorsports —