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Westchester Steakhouse 'Branches Out' To Help Troops Serving Overseas

By Carly Sitzer

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — For decades, The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein, has taught children the importance of giving by telling the story of a tree who gave up everything to help his friend. The tree offered his shade, branches and apples to the boy before sacrificing his trunk to be made into a boat.

However, if it was up to Jim Rathschmidt, founder of United for the Troops—a non-profit, non-political group that sends care packages to troops stationed overseas - the tree may have provided the materials to make boxes to send to soldiers serving overseas.

United For The Troops
(credit: United For The Troops)

Rathschmidt said the inspiration for United for the Troops came after his son, Luke, joined the service five years ago. When Luke was in Iraq, his parents sent him care packages, but quickly discovered this wasn't the norm.

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"He told us that there were many men and women that didn't have anyone sending them anything," he said. "So we sent them 100 self-addressed envelopes, with a little note inside asking what they wanted. And we started getting these notes asking for what they wanted."

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Once Rathschmidt received the list of items the troops wanted, he sought members of his community to donate the items on the list.

"Our first shipment with the community was over 500 boxes," he said. "All of our items are donated, so we don't need any money to buy any items, but we do need money to send everything over."

To combat this cost of shipping, Kim O'Donenell, sales and marketing manager of Morton's Steakhouse in White Plains, came up with the idea of creating a Giving Tree that donates $15 to United for the Troops for every leaf sold.

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O'Donnell first worked with United for the Troops last year, when Morton's hosted a networking event that collected items to be donated.

"The marines that came to speak with them that night just touched me, really they were amazing," she said. "It was amazing last year and at so many of these events, people bring things, but of course they have to ship them as well and it costs an average of $15 per package."

O'Donnell explained that people will be able to donate to the Giving Tree until Dec. 5, when Morton's will hold another networking night where people can donate items to be sent overseas.

United for the Troops will continue to collect not only items to be shipped, but also funds to subsidize the cost although Rathschmidt has a bigger goal in mind for the men and women serving overseas.

"Wouldn't it be nice even we didn't have to do this next year?" he asked.

Those interested in donating to or getting involved with United for the Troops should visit their website at

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