Loss and Hope.  Thanksgiving 2020


For many, 2020 will be remembered as a year of loss.  The loss of over 250,000 Americans lives to the Coronavirus, the loss of millions of jobs, the disappointment and the loss experienced due to the canceling of events and celebrations. It is also the year where 30 plus named disasters ravaged the Gulf Coast and Western States. The year has taken an emotional toll on all of us.  For me personally, the year of loss of 2020 continued with the passing of a close college friend last week.

I met Tommy Anuszewski in 1998 as a freshman at Le Moyne College in Syracuse NY, where we became friends and then roommates for three years. Tommy and I had many adventures together.  Following the events of September 11th and college graduation, Tommy enlisted in the army in 2004. He served two tours of duty  in Iraq, attaining the rank of Sergeant by  bravely serving as an Infantry Team Leader. Tommy earned a Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, and Army Commendation Medal with Valor Device.

Like countless service members that left to defend our country, Tommy returned stateside and suffered from PTSD and had many challenges throughout the years culminating with his untimely passing on November 15th

When Tommy was first deployed to Iraq, we all did our best as friends to reach out and keep his spirits up.  My fiancé at the time, now my wife, and I sent a care package to him and his troops following a list of requested provisions.   Several weeks later in the mail we received a letter from Tommy. He included pictures but also some Iraqi currency, a souvenir of sorts, to let us know that he was ok and getting the job done.

I put the 25 Iraqi dinars in my pocket in my wallet and I’ve carried it there to this day simply as a reminder that service members across our great country put themselves at risk for the sake of our freedom.  I never wanted it to be far for me, as reminder of my friend, but also of all those who serve.  Over the years, the bill has become torn and frayed but it remains intact and will be carried forth as a reminder of my commitment to serve others like Tommy.


 I believe we all have things that we carry in this world that remind us of the sacrifices others have made for us or personal items that represent challenges we’ve overcome.  The scars and bruises from 2020 will remain but I remain hopeful that they will make us stronger in the future.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I find it important to reflect not on the loss of 2020, but also on the signs of hope.  While COVID-19 has disrupted all our lives, we’ve also witnessed the very best of our communities coming together this year. We’ve seen health care appreciation events to recognize our frontline heroes for their tireless efforts to control the pandemic.  And we’ve seen scores of volunteers and community partners like FeedAlbany, Regional Foodbanks and countless other organizations work together to ensure that no family goes without food. 

At the Red Cross we’ve had over 250 volunteers deploy to the Western Wildfires and  Hurricanes down in the Gulf Coast. On a daily basis our volunteers are responding to home fires nearly 300 in our region this year to date. Our community partners have come together to hold blood drives to ensure that all the patients in our area hospitals have the necessary blood products needed to survive.  We’ve seen innovation in our communities where we’ve leveraged virtual meetings and gatherings to connect with Veterans in the VA hospitals. And, I’m incredibly proud of the Red Cross virtual family assistance center that continues to provide comfort and support to family members who’ve lost loved ones due to COVID-19 with grieve counseling and case management services.

Thanksgiving is only a few days away and it’s difficult not to think of all of the loss that we’ve faced in 2020. I know many families across this country may have empty chairs at their tables whether it be loved ones who have passed, loved ones who cannot return home due to safety issues or loved ones who are overseas defending this country.  But we all have an opportunity this Thanksgiving- in a year of so much loss, to give hope.  Find a way to make a difference this holiday season.  One of my college buddies and a close friend of Tommy’s, runs a successful business in Florida, his message to his customers and employees was simple-

As the holidays approach I encourage everyone to participate in all programs- whether its a “round-up” program at a participating store, toy donations, food donations- the amount may seem small to you- but the impact is massive to others. Steve Glozik, President at FP Commercial Solutions

I am thankful to have the opportunity to bear witness to incredible humanitarian efforts every day.  I am inspired by the dedication of our volunteers, community partners, blood donors and financial supporters who answer the call to prevent and alleviate human suffering. My hope is that everyone carries forth a reason or holds on to an item that inspires them to make the world better and commits to making a difference this Holiday season.  For me, it’s a an old torn up bill given to me by my friend Tommy.  May he rest in peace.

Kevin Coffey, Regional CEO, American Red Cross Eastern New York Region