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Wawa Highlights USO During Eclectic Day of Fun, Food

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

By Eric Brandner 

PHILADELPHIA – Before the fife-and-drum procession, before the flying lettuce – some purposefully – of the inter-service sandwich-making contest and long before thousands of hungry people stormed the Independence Visitor Center lawn, there was a 6-foot-tall dancing sandwich.

Tuesday’s Wawa Hoagie Day was strikingly organized chaos, a 500-volunteer operation that brought the city’s police and firefighters together with the state’s Army and Air National Guardsmen and several thousand Philadelphians to showcase modern America’s birthplace.

And if you were too busy being distracted by the trash-talking police commissioner or the dance party breaks during the early morning Wawa-volunteer-led hoagie build, well, that was probably the point.

The 21st annual Wawa Hoagie Day brought the downtown Philadelphia community together for a free meal, a little fun and some big donations. As part of the event, Wawa presented a $100,000 check to the USO as part of its summer in-store campaign.

“We formed a relationship with the USO and Hoagie Day is a big part of it,” Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens said. “We have associates who are in the military. … It’s important for us because it’s just the right thing to do to give back to the community and thank our troops.”

The campaign – which runs through Sunday – features USO promotional coffee sleeves, coin canisters for donations and scan cards that allowed customers to give in $1, $3 and $5 increments to the USO.

“Let there be no doubt that there was one corporate entity in this region that stepped up very early on and said ‘How do we truly say thank you to the military?’ and Wawa was it,” USO Liberty President Joe Brooks told the crowd after the check presentation.

As Brooks, Gheysens and others spoke from the stage, lunchtime visitors on the lawn below filed through long lines to get their piece of the 4.5-ton Wawa hoagie that a group of more than 200 Wawa volunteers assembled beginning early Tuesday morning inside the National Constitution Center, which served as the event’s backdrop.

On the other side of the lawn, families stopped by the USO Letters from Home Station – manned by volunteers from USO Liberty – to write messages to deployed troops that will be included in USO Liberty care packages.

“The USO provides such important support for all of our deploying troops, troops at home and the veterans and families,” said Col. Anthony Carrelli of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. “I’ve deployed overseas seven times, and there’s not a single time during our departures or recoveries that there weren’t USO reps there.”

But the day will be remembered for the activities you don’t see often.

In the first on-stage hoagie-building competition of the afternoon, the team from Philadelphia’s police department backed up Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey’s prediction and cruised to victory over the Philadelphia Fire Department. (Ramsey jokingly told the crowd that the fire department would take too many breaks to win.)

In the second competition of the day, the Pennsylvania Air National Guard dominated their Pennsylvania National Armed Guard counterparts, building 85 hoagies in just three minutes. After the contest, Wawa presented additional $3,000 checks on behalf of each team to the USO.

And then there was the dancing Wawa Shorti – the representation of a four-inch sandwich in a 6-foot-tall mascot body – dancing with volunteers, posing for TV cameras and doing whatever it could to keep spirits high during the morning hoagie build.
“You saw the volunteers, and the troops as well as the police and fire [department] having a lot of fun, a lot of camaraderie,” Gheysens said. “Being part of Philadelphia as a hometown is really coming out today on a day like this.”

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Photo caption: Members of the Pennsylvania National Armed Guard team participate in a hoagie-building contest during Tuesday's Wawa Hoagie Day celebration in Philadelphia. (USO photo by Eric Brandner) 

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