Better to give than to receive: Air Force reservist goes above and beyond

NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. -- For the fourth year in a row, Tech. Sgt. Phil Tillinghast (right) has collected thousands of non-perishable foods for donation to needy families near Niagara Falls ARS at year's end. A cargo processing technician for the 30th Aerial Port Squadron here, Sgt. Tillinghast's 'Christmas Cargo' covered much of the the floor of the squadron building during the unit's annual holiday party Dec. 6, 2008. His long-time friend and civilian coworker Mr. Ronald Shaw (left) helped make it happen for the last two years.  (U.S. Air Force Photo by Mr. Mike Harvey)

NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. -- For the fourth year in a row, Tech. Sgt. Phil Tillinghast (right) has collected thousands of non-perishable foods for donation to needy families near Niagara Falls ARS at year's end. A cargo processing technician for the 30th Aerial Port Squadron here, Sgt. Tillinghast's 'Christmas Cargo' covered much of the the floor of the squadron building during the unit's annual holiday party Dec. 6, 2008. His long-time friend and civilian coworker Mr. Ronald Shaw (left) helped make it happen for the last two years. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Mr. Mike Harvey)

NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. -- Thousands of cans, bags, boxes and jars of food covered the floor of the 30th Aerial Port Squadron's cargo area for the unit's fourth annual holiday food drive December 6. The food drive supports the Airman & Family Readiness section' s programs to feed local needy families during the year-end holiday season. 

Made up of both food and cash contributions from various organizations and individuals, the entire collection filled more than three quarters of Tech. Sgt. Phil Tillinghast's basement this year. 

As the food drive organizer for each of the last four years, Tillinghast said he asks himself "What can I do to go above and beyond?" His answer was "We all have problems, but you might help someone if you stop and listen. Don't just look at what you're going through, but what you can do for others--things to make a meal and put a smile on someone's face. I get the biggest warmth inside." 

Last year, he found out his sport utility vehicle couldn't handle the load--the hard way. As the bulk weight of all the cans, boxes, jars, and bags he crammed in the back seat and cargo area bounced along, his rear window cracked, and the electronics package under the rear seat was crushed. However, Tillinghast said his car dealer repaired the damage at no cost to him in return for his charitable acts. 

Of course, at the aerial port squadron, anything scheduled for delivery usually gets palletized. By the time this year's food drive pallet was full, an estimated 2,800 pounds of food were holding it down, said Chief Master Sgt. Charles E. "Chuck" Craven. 

Tillinghast joined the Air Force Reserve in 2001 following a 16-year stint in the Navy, and described the people of the 30th APS as "phenomenal." "I look forward to every drill weekend--it's my second family," he said. 

To further support the food drive, Tillinghast took the cause to his civilian job. A steel worker by trade, he has collected donations from his coworkers each year. Although he said the plant management recently announced the facility is scheduled to close in January 2010 and work hours have been reduced, Tillinghast said the spirit of giving was still strong this year. "Even going through hard times, the workers were still donating." 

In this same spirit, his longtime friend and fellow steel worker Mr. Ronald Shaw of West Seneca, N.Y. joined him last year in organizing the event and doing some of the grunt work. 

Mr. Shaw lost his son Army Sgt. Daniel G. Shaw who died while serving in Iraq in November, 2007. Though brokenhearted, he joined his friend in the work. 

"Ron put his grieving aside and helped me out," said Tillinghast. "Between the two of us, we made it happen. I couldn't find a better friend." 

"I know it's going to someone who needs it. It feels good. I just like to do things that I know (my son) would appreciate," said Mr. Shaw.