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Disaster Prep and First Response

Gary Sinise on the Importance of Looking Out for First Responders

Photos: Courtesy of the Gary Sinise Foundation

Actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise talks about how his Foundation is helping first responders and frontline healthcare workers through its First Responders Outreach initiative.

What was your motivation behind starting the Gary Sinise Foundation?

It was series of things, starting with the veterans in my own family. I’ve been involved with supporting our military veterans going back almost 40 years starting in the early ‘80s when we began hosting a free Vets Night at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. In the ‘90s after playing Lt Dan in Forrest Gump I began supporting our wounded and disabled veterans. But it was after September 11th that I became much more active for our defenders and the families who sacrifice alongside them. That call to service, which I talk about in my book Grateful American: A Journey From Self To Service, has remained a priority for me. My personal mission is what led to the founding of the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011, and through the generous support of the American people we continue to expand our outreach to help our nation’s defenders, veterans, first responders, their loved ones, and those in need — most recently expanding our efforts to our healthcare workers in the fight against COVID-19.

The Gary Sinise Foundation is a well-established nonprofit organization that has just entered its tenth year. What are some ways in which disaster preparedness has shaped your organization?

Through our First Responders Outreach program we’re addressing the needs of Fire Departments, Police, and EMTs nationwide. We want them to be well equipped to handle any crisis, so whether it’s through relief grants, providing essential lifesaving equipment, or training grants, we want to ensure our defenders can always perform to the best of their abilities before, during, and in the aftermath of a disaster. From the beginning, I wanted to be flexible as a foundation, able to adapt and shift to support the critical needs of those we serve.

What was the biggest challenge that your organization faced in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Once the pandemic hit, the Gary Sinise Foundation launched the Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service initiative to identify and address the immediate needs of those fighting on the front lines against this terrible virus. We quickly set out to make sure our First Responders were equipped with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and large-scale decontamination gear in order to protect them from the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, we added frontline health care workers to our mission and delivered meals, masks and face shields to hospitals across the country.

How has your organization had an impact regarding disaster recovery?

The needs following any disaster are ever-changing.  Whether it’s the needs of an individual soldier whose been blown up in combat, the aftermath of a brush fire, or the arrival of a pandemic, our job as a Foundation is to adapt and meet the those needs. For example, Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area and many firefighters and police officers lost their homes while out trying to save the homes of their fellow citizens. We provided much needed support to many first responders in the aftermath.

What message do you have for first responders and essential workers who are bravely risking their lives for the safety of others?

Having spent many years supporting our first responders and visiting military hospitals where nurses and doctors selflessly serve, I have great respect for you and I’m so grateful for everything you do. All of us at the Gary Sinise Foundation, and the many grateful Americans who support our programs, will never forget the sacrifices you and your families have made and continue to make. I salute you!

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