By Chad Stewart

EL PASO, Texas–The bad news is that there’s only one Jerrilu Mallo.

The good news is that there are extraordinary USO volunteers like her around the world, willing to do whatever it takes to make sure service members and military families are supported and connected to home through the USO.

Mallo is a USO center director’s dream come true – a passionate, caring volunteer who also works tirelessly to secure in-kind donations from local businesses and organizations. She’s marched into pharmacies, coffee shops, restaurants and biker bars to ask if they’d like to support America’s men and women in uniform and walked out with gift cards, mountains of candy and pallets of batteries.

“Jerrilu canvassed the community,” said Yolanda Castillo, USO El Paso’s center director. “She would go to every business – whether it was a restaurant, [retailer] or any place that could help the USO – and she developed a friendship with one of the regional managers at Walgreens.”

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The store let Mallo set up a large box with a sign asking customers to donate candy and other treats to service members. The El Paso community’s overwhelming response would probably make dentists and dieticians cringe.

“I went every week to pick up bags [of candy],” Mallo said. “We would have to put them on a cart to get it out to the car [and] they did that for a year.”

She started volunteering at the USO after her husband, retired Army Col. Harry Mallo, died in 2006. He served in Germany and South Korea and shared stories about how the USO supported him while he was stationed overseas. She said his experiences with the organization inspired her to volunteer.

Jerrilu Mallo flips through a scrapbook filled with USO photos and newspaper clippings she has collected since she started volunteering with the organization. | Photo credit USO photo by Eric Brandner

“After he died, I had a friend who was volunteering [at the USO] who said, ‘It would really be good. You need to come out here’” she said. “So I did, and I absolutely loved it.”

The USO was one way for her to stay connected to the military after her husband’s death. But that connection is felt both ways. For thousands of soldiers and family members stationed at Fort Bliss, the sprawling Army post in West Texas, she’s an instant reminder of home.

“Some of the young girls we’ve met here volunteering … I keep in touch with them,” she said, referring to many military spouses she’s served alongside. “It’s like I’m … an extra mother or grandmother [to them].

Maybe I’m selfish, but it makes me happy to make them happy.

Most of the military families she’s forged lasting relationships with have moved on to faraway bases, but they find ways to stay connected even though Mallo’s “not a Facebook person.” She said they are like extended family, even though she has a large family of her own spread across the country.

With more than 1,700 volunteer hours to her credit, Mallo has slowed her pace in recent years, but still helps out at special events like USO/What to Expect Special Delivery baby showers and Warrior Games trials.

“I like to do anything that’s available where I can be with [service members],” she said. “I love being with [them]. … Maybe I’m selfish, but it makes me happy to make them happy.”

You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.