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Giveaways and superheroes draw families to Military Heroes Festival caravan at Liberty Station

Terese Johnson and her son Rudolph at the Military Heroes Festival.
Terese Johnson and her son Rudolph wait near the front of a line of cars during the Military Heroes Festival on Aug. 22 at Liberty Station to honor active-duty service members.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Community association joins with USO and Rock Church to honor service members with a pandemic-friendly distribution of complimentary groceries, backpacks, toys and thrift store clothing.

Hundreds of military families aching for an escape from the tedium of the pandemic caravaned in their cars through Liberty Station on Aug. 22, collecting free groceries, diapers and backpacks filled with school supplies as their children were greeted by costumed superheroes.

Organizers of the second annual Military Heroes Festival adapted to COVID-19 guidance by staging a drive-through event that never required people to leave their cars during the three-hour event.

The Liberty Station Community Association, joined by the USO and Rock Church, converted four parking lots into distribution and entertainment areas, which included thrift store clothing; wandering Storm Troopers, Wonder Women and an Incredible Hulk; live music and retrofitted firetrucks.

“We have 360 acres to socially distance, so we decided to turn this into a drive-through,” said Laurie Albrecht, director of the Liberty Station association. “We took all those parking lots and are going from the north end to the south end and give everyone what they had last year. In some ways, with people being so interested in getting out now and participating in some way, it’s like there is a level of excitement that wasn’t there last year because no one has been able to do anything.”

Volunteers at Military Heroes event at Liberty Station
Volunteers load a vehicle with food items during the Military Heroes Festival at Liberty Station.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

In one Liberty Station parking lot, cars traversed the wide-open area, which was laid out buffet-style, with one canopied station offering bags of potatoes, apples, brussels sprouts and cabbage; another with fixings for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; and another with cheese, fish sticks, tortillas and candy. An assortment of blue, purple, green and pink backpacks each contained a notebook, a folder, pencils and pens, crayons and glue.

“It was so nice they put on something for the kids and supplies for her school,” Samantha Breitkreutz said, pointing to her 15-year-old daughter Mckenzie, seated next to her. In the back seat were her 4-year-old triplets. The family’s sole income is from her husband’s Navy wages.

“I didn’t get to come last year, so anything that would help a family of six is good,” Breitkreutz said. “We really have to watch what we’re spending.”

A bonus for her younger kids were the costumed characters. “They saw people with capes and they were very excited.”

Several children could be seen in their parents’ cars, outfitted in superhero masks, others with capes and a few waving American stick flags.

Terese Johnson, a petty officer first class in the Navy, went to the Military Heroes Festival last year and said she enjoyed it so much that she entered a lottery, hoping she would be able to make a repeat visit this year with her son Rudolph, who turns 3 next month. Because the USO knew demand for the event would exceed the space it had allotted for the 500-vehicle caravan, it used a lottery system for selecting those who could attend.

“The free food is a nice addition, but the biggest thing for me with this pandemic and being in the military is child care,” said Johnson, who lives in Linda Vista. “I don’t have any day care because they’re closed, but my command has been excellent and I’m able to work from home. This is just nice to be able to take him out. He’s 3 years old and has a lot of energy.

“I just kept telling him, ‘Superheroes, superheroes.’”


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