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The GiveBack Project: Giving Back in Times of Need

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 Nov. 11, 2020 | BY Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Benjamin Lewis

Everyone is aware of the ups and downs this pandemic has brought from lockdown to regaining some freedoms to more restrictions being placed again. Despite all the uncertainties, one thing remains constant — the importance of community. No one can deny that the local community has been impacted by COVID-19. Though the Navy is a guest in Spain, this country has become home, and many have chosen to help the local communities in Rota and El Puerto de Santa Maria during this time of need. 

A sailor passes donations to a Spanish official.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Christon Duhon and Navy Seaman Manuel Soto, both assigned to U.S. Naval Hospital Rota, along with Navy Chaplain (Cmdr.) Samuel Ravelo, former Naval Station Rota command chaplain, came up with the GiveBack project and brought it to life with the help of Boy Scouts of America Troop 73. The project started in April and has seen people come and go. Now, the team includes Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Josh Espinoza, Navy Chaplain (Lt.) Nathan Rice, and Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Harvy Natac. 

The GiveBack project name represents the welcoming, helpful and supportive community of Rota and El Puerto de Santa Maria and is a way for the base community to give back to the local community during this difficult time. The project was developed with the goal of aiding as many as possible within the local communities. 

“Initially when the project began, Soto and I were concerned how we would meet all the logistical challenges and if we would find enough volunteers to help support a project such as this,” Duhon said. “We’ve been fortunate to find base-wide contributions and support from the multiple departments and tenant commands which include the base chapel, PAO [public affairs officer], Spanish protocol, hospital, housing, Boy Scouts, DoDEA [Department of Defense Education Activity], NAVSUP [Naval Supply Systems Command, NEX [Navy Exchange] and the Seabees. Due to continued interest in helping others and new volunteers taking an interest, we hope to continue this program as long as it’s helping others.” 

The GiveBack project continues to offer two ways for the community to donate. First, the organizers have set up donation boxes for food or non-perishable items at the base chapel, housing office, and the Boy Scouts Hut in the base housing area. To date, the community has filled 20 tri-wall boxes with donations.

U.S. and Spanish workers pose in front of a van full of donations.

“While this project helps fill that void and lift the spirits for all those who volunteer, our hope is that we can take advantage of the recent PCS [permanent change of station] season as families are unpacking and possibly looking to donate,” Duhon said.

Alternatively, the project established an online donation fund where 100% of the money donated will be used to purchase food items from off-base grocery stores. So far, the community has given $1625.26 toward groceries.

Chaplain Ravelo said he originally came to Rota with the idea of making a difference on base and in the community.

“I learned from the time of my arrival here that everything happens around the cathedral in the different cities in Spain, so my prayer has been that our chapel would be like a cathedral for our community,” Ravelo said.

The GiveBack organizers are coordinating with the NAVSTA Rota Spanish liaison office, which is in contact with city hall officials from both El Puerto and Rota, in order to organize the pickup or delivery of the donations from the installation for coordinated distribution within their cities.

Sailors and local Spanish officials pose in front of donations.

“As mayor of El Puerto de Santa Maria and on behalf of all the people of Puerto that I represent, I want to thank you for your constant generosity with El Puerto which is always important in these times that we are going through and takes on even more value,” said German Beardo, mayor of El Puerto de Santa Maria. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your donations that help many vulnerable families who need our solidarity and collaboration to move forward. Together we are able to go further to leave no one behind.”

Duhon added that the project helps demonstrate to the local community that the U.S. stands by its neighbors and is here to help support our friends in these turbulent times.

“We’re not only partners during the operational exercises, we’re committed to supporting them when they’re not able to make ends meet. By collecting donations or gathering clothing items, this project does just that,” Duhon said. “As many people are currently following the state of alarm by their government, they’ve sacrificed their sources of income to help keep the community healthy, including the naval Base. The GiveBack project is a way to say thank you to them for what they’re sacrificing as well as our community’s way of demonstrating our support.”

Giving food, water or even clothing doesn’t just supply a family with basic necessities, it gives families relief while showing that people do care. Both Americans and Spanish are in this together. The impact of the GiveBack project continues to emphasize and strengthen the bond between our two communities.


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