Si Tenenberg, a marine veteran and founder of Helping Soldiers in the Desert, died in February. With his passing, the organization’s future was uncertain. In a story that’s Positively Central Coast, Si’s dedicated group carries on his legacy one box at a time.
“As soon as he found out that we were organized enough to do this, he passed away,” said Paul Burton, one of the volunteers leading Helping Soldiers in the Desert.
The last 15 years of Si Tenenberg’s life, up to the very end, were devoted to sending care packages to troops stationed overseas. His loyal group within the organization wasn’t about to let his legacy go to the wayside.
“Everybody got in touch with us and said, ‘We're with you,’” said Natalie Burton, Paul’s wife and a head volunteer for Helping Soldiers in the Desert.
From several jam-packed rooms in Si’s San Luis Obispo home to a garage in North County, Helping Soldiers in the Desert marches on.
“We had to bring about six, seven truckloads,” said Natalie about the move from SLO to Atascadero. “I can't even begin to tell you; he had a three-car garage, storage rooms, and other rooms in the house that were taken over. The upstairs was the only part of his house that was not (dedicated to) troops.”
To say Si was passionate about sending supplies to troops would be an understatement, but his trusty volunteers are keeping his vision moving. Natalie and Paul have been with Si’s organization for several years. The couple in their 80s has taken on the major packing process in their garage with the help of several volunteer packers and supply gatherers.
“It is very complex, and they've taken on a huge, huge responsibility doing this,” said Myrna Wood, a team leader for Helping Soldiers in the Desert. “And I have a tremendous amount of respect for them for doing this. I know it's not easy.”
Since Si founded the organization in 2006, more than 23,000 boxes filled with supplies have been sent to troops stationed overseas. The new leaders have run into a couple issues; Si had numerous connections with businesses for different items for the troops, but he kept a lot of the day-to-day operations of the nonprofit to himself, making it difficult for the organization to get in contact with those businesses.
Leaders say they’re currently sending between 10-15 boxes per week, but they would love to send more. They need your help to get local troops’ information in order to up the output.
“If we could have people contact us or send out a form for deployed troops to fill out to give us requests. We would love to build it back up to 50 boxes a week,” said Wood.
That’s exactly what the organization has been doing for more than a decade and a half, and they plan to continue their mission for years to come.
“They're helping protect us to give us the freedoms that we have. It's in my heart that we do what we can,” said Wood.
“Si gave us a lot of inspiration. And he was a good guy. He was definitely one of the good guys, and we miss him a lot,” said Nancy Duvall, a head packer for Helping Soldiers in the Desert.
The organization needs donations to continue operating. Rather than buying supplies on your own, the group prefers monetary donations because they know exactly what the troops request.
Welcome Home Military Heroes and Si’s organization have been working together for years. Cheryl Tolan, the co-founder and secretary for Welcome Home Military Heroes, has a goal to create a domain name and website to gain more traffic for Helping Soldiers in the Desert.
“We're trying to now brand his organization a little bit. We're creating a domain name. We're trying to drive people to a website; something that he really hasn't been doing for a while,” said Tolan. “They make their checks payable to Helping Soldiers in the Desert, and then they can mail it to our Welcome Home Military Heroes’ P.O. box. Our treasurer takes care of their finances.”
If you would like to help out either organization, click here. Dollar Tree locations in Atascadero, Arroyo Grande, and Morro Bay allow customers to buy items for Helping Soldiers in the Desert that get picked up throughout the week by volunteers. You can also reach out to Myrna Wood at Mybizztroops@gmail.com if you know any deployed troops that would want a package.