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Penn Township family pitches in to feed wounded veterans

By Matt Stroud

Friday, April 16, 2010

When it comes to supporting the troops, a Penn Township family isn't putting its money where its mouth is. It's putting its money where the mouths of wounded troops are.

Brian Phelps doesn't have family members who were wounded in battle, but he does have a sister in the military.

"This was born out of our desire to do something for the troops during a time of war," he said. "Regardless of any political ideas or beliefs, we wanted to support them."

Phelps explained that in late 2005, he caught the end of a "Fox News Sunday" episode that featured Hal Koster, a restaurateur in Washington, D.C., who, along with his business partner, provided thick steak dinners and bottomless drinks on Friday nights for severely wounded soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Koster later founded the Aleethia Foundation to accept donations to pay for steak dinners for wounded troops.

Phelps decided that was the kind of organization he wanted his family to join.

"It just seemed like an excellent way to pitch in," he said.

He soon recruited his wife, Tracy, and sons -- Carl, 16, a sophomore at Penn-Trafford High School, and Eric, 13, who's in seventh grade at Penn Middle School -- to help with the project. They said they travel to Washington regularly and that they're preparing for their seventh sponsored dinner.

Phelps said he'll pitch in "a few thousand dollars" a couple of times per year, but that the price doesn't bother him. It's something he thinks his sons can learn from.

And what have his two sons learned from the experience?

"That there are people out there with greater problems than we have," Carl said.

His brother agreed.

"Ever since (our first dinner)," Eric said, "I (realized) that even if I thought I had it bad, these people just totally changed me."

"I always hear people at school who say 'My life sucks,' 'I hate school,' 'I'm so bad at everything,'" Carl said. "Then I think to myself, 'You have it easy compared to these guys.'"

Carl, who's involved in Penn-Trafford's robotics program, hopes to use his newfound connections to study at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.

Eric said he's unsure what he'll do when he grows up, but he's interested in acting and sports -- hockey in particular. Both are honor roll students.

The Phelps family will sponsor a dinner tonight at the Capital Hill Club in Washington, D.C.

"The road to recovery is long for these guys," Phelps said. "Hopefully, we can make that road a little more pleasant for these troops."

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