By serving his country with the U.S. Marines, Zachary Romero is putting others before himself.
This Christmas, he wants to do the same thing.
The 23-year-old Seymour native has set up an angel tree GoFundMe page to collect monetary donations to help anyone in need. He also is seeking information about what they need.
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On Dec. 23, he will buy all of the requested Christmas presents and hand them out. He also is looking for volunteers to help wrap presents and deliver them.
If he happens to have any leftover money, he said he will hand out $25 gas cards to random people until all of the money is gone.
“I find great enjoyment out of helping others, and I’m positive there are others that want to do the same,” Romero said. “I find myself every year trying to find a good way to give back, so I ask anyone who can donate, please do.”
People can message Romero through Facebook (facebook.com/zachary.romero.9887) or anonymously send him a message about a family in need through Sarahah (o3fiftynasty.sarahah.com). Include address, phone number and detailed description of the items on the wish list (size, gender, etc.) for the person in need. Name isn’t necessary but would help, he said.
“It doesn’t just have to be items they want. It could also be a request to help with food or bills. This money will go toward helping people this holiday in any way possible,” Romero said.
“It’s for anyone or any family struggling this year and needs a little extra love,” he said. “I enjoy helping people more than anything, and I’d really love for this to have a great turnout and help people. I can only buy for what I know people need, so that’s why I’m really wanting people to be as descriptive as possible when they contact me.”
Since graduating from Seymour High School in 2013 and enlisting with the Marines Aug. 11, 2014, Romero said he only has been able to come home for Christmas once.
He currently is deployed in Japan but will be home for the holidays.
“I will be able to be home for 14 days — 12 if you take off the time it takes to travel back and forth to Hawaii,” he said, as he is an E-4 corporal stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
“When I’m home, I plan on volunteering to feed the homeless, go to Florida to be at my Marine brother’s wedding, see my family and I hope to change some people’s lives by giving them a Christmas to remember with the GoFundMe campaign I’m trying to raise donations and awareness for,” Romero said. “I’ve spent a lot of time away and missed a lot, and I’m looking forward to hearing about all the things I missed.”
Romero said he recently went through some difficult events in his life, and the way he copes and heals from that is by helping others.
“When the times get hard or challenging in my job, helping people is what I turn to,” he said. “I focus on others’ problems or misfortune and help them. It distracts me from my own problems and difficulties.”
That’s how the angel tree project came about.
His goal is $5,000, but he said if there is a greater need, the campaign will be updated with a new number.
“I want to help as many people as I possibly can,” Romero said.
Several people have reached out to help him with wrapping and delivering gifts, but others are welcome, he said.
“I have my own vehicle and plenty of people with big hearts that have already offered to assist me with not only donations but Christmas wrapping and delivering, as well,” Romero said. “If it gets a lot of traction, I am going to have a gift-wrapping party at my house with pizza and drinks and Christmas music. It’ll be a blast.”
Romero is excited about delivering the gifts.
“I look forward to a great big smile and a hug if I can get it because the people that need this are suffering silently and stressed out on the daily, I’m sure,” he said. “If me and everyone that helps with the efforts of this campaign can ease their hearts and mind even a little, me and the people involved will have done what we set out to do.”
He said he doesn’t expect anything in return. He just hopes to have a more caring and more involved community.
“Everyone that is helping has their own reasons, but I hope to get a better understanding of just how many people in our community need help and that are struggling and why so looking to the future, we can hopefully prevent or lessen how many people need help,” he said.
He also has thought about extending the help beyond the holidays.
“If there’s an ongoing need or more people than we have funds for, I’m going to make it my mission to continue this and be more than an angel tree,” he said. “I’ve always wanted a career path that helped others, so if this were to evolve into something much bigger, I would dedicate all of my time to it. Helping people is what I’m most passionate about.”
Romero, who is an assault squad leader within his platoon, has been in Japan for nearly six months. It’s his second deployment there.
His active service is supposed to end Aug. 11, 2018. He then plans to return to Seymour and take at least a month off before going back to his job at Valeo.
He also hopes to attend college and eventually buy property and operate a company that rents houses to families.
“Because I’ve seen many people and families struggle to find places to live or affordable housing in Seymour,” he said.