September 6, 2017
SVSU 9/11 Heroes Run to benefit organization inspired by Midland man killed in Afghanistan in 2011
This year, the 9/11 Heroes Run hosted at Saginaw Valley State University will support a Midland-based nonprofit dedicated to sending morale-lifting care packages to military service members serving overseas.
"It was quite the honor that SVSU chose to help us," said Debi Bartley-Ullom, executive director of Aaron's Gifts From Home. "The postage for sending these care packages has skyrocketed, and any type of help we can get is a blessing."
Registration for the 5K race - which includes a 1K "fun run" for children as well as a 9/11 remembrance ceremony - is $30 for non-military participants. The event begins at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11 in the parking lot of SVSU's Gilbertson Hall. The 5K race starts at 6:30 p.m.
Those interested in participating in the SVSU 5K run can register online at www.svsu.edu/heroesrun until Sept. 10 at midnight or sign up at the site of the race beginning at 5 p.m. Sept. 11.
Addressing the crowd before the race will be Bartley-Ullom, who founded the organization - along with her husband, Kevin Ullom - after their son was killed in Afghanistan. Aaron Ullom, a 2009 Midland High School graduate, was a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman when he was shot and killed by enemy fire in July 2011.
His mother said, in a way, Aaron's Gifts From Home was her son's idea. Bartley-Ullom frequently sent her son care packages featuring items - food, clothing, books, DVDs, etc. - to lift his spirits after he was deployed in February 2011.
"Sometimes, he would tell me, "Mom, a lot of people here aren't receiving much from home: Can you send a little extra?," Bartley-Ullom said. "It really bothered him when others wouldn't receive any packages from back home."
After he died, Ullom's parents decided to continue to honor their son's request by sending care packages to other military men and women serving overseas. What began as an operation out of her basement in June 2012 developed into a nonprofit organization about one year later.
With growing support from the Midland community, Aaron's Gifts From Home eventually moved to an office in Midland Towne Center. On the organization's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AaronsGiftsFromHome, Bartley-Ullom documents the group's behind-the-scenes work as well as photos of the packages' recipients.
She estimates her nonprofit sent 12,000 care packages over its 5-year existence. These days, the organization sends an average of 200 packages monthly to destinations including Afghanistan and Iraq.
"He would be so proud of this," she said of her son. "I just know he's smiling down on us."
Bartley-Ullom said any help is appreciated - whether that assistance involves volunteers preparing care packages or good Samaritans donating money and supplies to the cause. Each package costs about $50 in contents and hefty overseas shipping prices.
"Community support is so important to us," she said.
SVSU's 9/11 Heroes Run also will support The Travis Manion Foundation, the national nonprofit that has organized the annual fundraiser at locations across the world since 2007. The foundation works to empower veterans and families of fallen heroes to develop character in future generations.