Amy Gallo, Clarksville, TN
President Donna Orender and Steve Jett, National Advertising Manager at Toyota
presented Amy Gallo with this check at a ceremony at center court at the WNBA
Last week, Amy Gallo was chosen as the Toyota National Hero for her community work in her community. Toyota awarded a $5,000 check to Amy Gallo's local Salvation Army in Tennessee. The check presentation took place during the first half of the WNBA All-Star Game in New York City.
A mother of six, Gallo did not exactly choose this path in the beginning. It was born out of tragedy more than 20 years ago when her first husband perished along with 247 fellow servicemen and women in a plane crash.
"We were all going through our own grief so we couldn't be there for each other," Gallo said. "And it just made you really realize there was nobody there, and after about the third day, a little lady knocked on my front door, and she was a widow from the Korean War. She came and was just there for me, and ever since then I've worked with widows. Almost twenty years now."
Not only does she work with widows, but she has also helps organize fundraisers and coordinate extracurricular activities for her children's schools.
"I run the Chess club, the Art club, the choir, I do USA for Kids and I also created Friends of the Library," she said.
Essay submitted by William Gallo, Amy's husband:
"My wife was widowed when she was 27 and with two small children. Her first husband died in a plane crash with 247 other soldiers coming back from six months of duty in the Sanai on 12/12/85. She took this tragedy and turned it into salvation for many other military widows that have followed her. She is notified of a death, usually within 6 hours, and is then with the widow for as long as she is needed. She does things like make funeral arrangements, travel arrangements for incoming family, buffer the new widow from the media, and be there when its the hardest...at 2 in the morning. Many widows stay in touch with Amy for years and they all speak of how wonderful it was to have someone who has "been there done that" helping them. In September of 2005 Amy won the State Farm Embrace Life Award for her work with the widows.
But, when Amy is not working with widows she is working in the local schools. We have six children. When she realised that the school librarian didn't get any extra money to buy new books and AR programs with she created a Friends of the Library for the school and in the two years of its existence is has raised over 5500.00. She does things like sell popcorn for .25 a bag and sell candy grams at Valentines Day and Halloween. But, she doesn't stop there. Amy is also Chess Club and Art Club mom. She is the Boxtops for Education and Campbells Labels for Education mom. In February she won the SOUPer Parent of the Year from Campbell's Soups for the state of Tennessee. Amy runs Honor Choir and US Bank for students, teaching them to start saving early for their college education. She puts up bulletin boards for any teacher that asks and is the volunteer coordinator for not one, but two schools. She was voted by the staff of East Montgomery Elementary School to be Volunteer of the Year for 2005/2006.
Amy has taught all of our children to volunteer and the whole family spends Thanksgiving day serving and feeding the homeless with the Salvation Army. Amy got a couple of teachers to help serve last year and this year is expecting even more to help out. We spend many cold nights ringing bells for the Salvation Army up until Christamas eve. On the fourth of July we all work at Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen, filling in as its hard to get people on that day.
Amy has been battling breast cancer for three years but has never let that stop her. Many people in our community know her as our local paper does many stories on her. The teachers that Amy works with every day had no idea that Amy has breast cancer until the paper did a story about it. She never complains and firmly believes in the goodness of mankind."
Because the school libraries do not receive any money from the outside, which means no new books or A.R. programs, she organized a group of her friends to create the Friends of the Library program for their school through a series of fundraisers.
"We make our own popcorn, get everything by donation, and 100% of the money goes to the librarian," Gallo said. She picks and chooses what she needs, so who knows better what she needs for the library than the librarian."
Additionally, the Friends of the Library also sells and delivers Candy Grams to students and teachers on Halloween & Valentine's Day. And thanks to Amy's hard work, the library has grown quite a bit over the past few years.
Of course, working with military widows is far from a glorious task, but it one that Amy Gallo takes on for the right reasons, and almost always without any recognition.
"The military knows I'm here, especially the Special Ops, the 160th, the Special Forces. When they have a death, they usually notify me within six to eight hours and ask me to go to the widows home, I do, and I go to the home and I've never been turned away. Sometimes they grab on me so hard I have bruises, because they are just so glad to know that there is someone that can walk them through the mess that their life has suddenly become.
In addition to literally being a shoulder to cry on, she has experience in those hours immediately following notification, helping with the paperwork, putting a funeral together and dealing with the media.
And if she was not busy enough, she just became a grandmother, which coincidentally, is how she found out that she was being honored by the WNBA.
"Well my daughter was actually in the hospital in labor with my first grandchild, and they found out that they were going to have to give her an emergency C-section, so we went outside to call the children. There was a message on my phone and I called the lady back and she just told me that I had been selected. It was the biggest surprise, and an hour later my first granddaughter was born. It was just an awesome day."
Especially when she found out about the $5,000, which she us donating directly to the Salvation Army.
As for her trip to New York, Gallo has quite the experience, from checking out the sites to being honored at center court during the game and meeting WNBA players.
"The whole thing was an amazing trip. The huge limousine from the airport was great, the hotel was beautiful and we actually got there at midnight and took our things to our room and walked to Times Square. The next morning we got up and went to the World Trade Center. Being military, we decided if we were going to go anywhere that's where we were going to go first. And we went there, and probably spent two or three emotional hours there, and then came back and did a bit of shopping and got ready for that evening."
Amy Gallo admits that she was not a big WNBA fan before the trip. Her husband is the sports fanatic in the family. But that all changed in a matter of days.
"Being in Madison Square Garden alone is just amazing, but being on center court was just a little bit intimidating. Everybody was just so sweet and so kind, and I got to meet a couple of players. Lisa Leslie, I met her in the elevator. We got to talking because the elevator was stopping at every floor and she mentioned that she plays in the WNBA. I asked if she was playing in the game and later that night I found out who she is. My husband is a huge sports fan, but I have six kids and a new grandchild, and I'm really active in my community, so I'm not really a television watcher. But it was so cool and the thing is I'll be watching it now, just because I got to see it live and how it works, and it was amazing, and they won me over, and they won my son over too, I actually found him watching a game on Friday night."
As for the money, Gallo already has ideas what to do with the donation.
"We are trying to get a homeless shelter built in our town. We really need it, and all of this will go to it. So that is absolutely awesome."