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(from left) Kathy McRae and Bard Grasso.

 Ford Retiree Works with Troops

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DEARBORN - What started out as way to donate time and give back to the community spiraled into a life-long hobby for one Ford Motor Company retiree.

Barbara Grasso, 55, of Woodhaven, worked at Ford Motor Company for over 30 years where she's made her way from working on the line to being the CEO and founder of American's Thank Our Troops, a charitable organization supported by Ford.

"My friends and I started supporting our deployed U.S. Troops with care packages while working at Ford 6-Sigma Westpac in Dearborn back in 2004," said Grasso.  "We started by supporting a co-worker's brother who was deployed in Iraq."

According to Grasso, she started out as one of the background people – volunteering when needed, gathering supplies and shipping packages.  But in 2005, Founder of the charitable organization Operation Iraq Pac, Joe Horenkamp, retired from Ford and left Grasso in charge.

"If people had of just forgotten about it as they retired it may have got folded up.  I didn’t really want it to fall apart so I said yes," she said.

Since then Grasso too retired in 2007, but has continued to keep the organization running as American's Thank Our Troops.  Still holding a very hands-on position as front-runner of the pack, she spends her time handling everything from contacting troops, putting together and shipping packages overseas, maintaining a strong relationship with Ford and more.

"I started it up thinking that salary folks would just want to do it.  We went from supporting one squadron to ten different units," said Grasso.  "It started out as a small little group of people and it ended up a pretty big group of people but we still have that closeness because we are all there for the same purpose."

That purpose is to support the troops who protect us.

So three times a year, generally once in November, just in time for the winter holidays, then again in March and June, Grasso and her team of Ford retirees, veterans and volunteers load care packages with everything from toothbrushes to laptops and send them to deployed U.S. troops.

"I can't even put into words how much fun I have.  It's been a hobby because it's not work for me.  Whatever we send to them they just love it and we get a lot of great feedback.  You don’t realize it's like they become your family," she said.

Topping every care package is a little bit of the Ford spirit said Grasso; copies of the @Ford magazine.  "It's a win-win situation.  It brings this whole community together."

"It has really been a wonderful program and it wouldn’t have got started without Ford.  I would've helped somewhere else but it wouldn't have been where it is today," she said with pride. "Ford has been wonderful to us; all the managers have really been great.  It keeps me connected to Ford."

So far American's Thank Our Troops have sent more than 11 tons of donations and supplies overseas.  Grasso said she plans on continuing as leader as long as she can and hopes to build the organization to gain more support.

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9/23/2011 12:00 AM