Adopt-a-Sailor Program Overwhelmed by Support

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So many families were hungry to play host to Navy recruits for Thanksgiving dinner that the Adopt-a-Sailor program ran out of seamen and had to close two days early.

"It was like Ticketmaster at playoff time," said Lt. Cmdr. John Wallach, spokesman for the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, about 35 miles north of Chicago.

Even though the Navy stopped taking applications last Wednesday, volunteers continued calling and sending e-mails.

The response is unparalleled in the more than 50 years of the program, said Lt. Brian Nowak of the Recruit Training Command.

"We think recent events have prompted people to make the requests," he said.

The 4,142 eligible recruits will have Thanksgiving dinner with families or in large groups at VFWs, American Legion posts and businesses.

Olga and Jim Ward won assignment of two sailors for dinner, but it took them two days of calling jammed telephone lines.

"We want to show our appreciation to these men and women," Olga Ward said. "They should know that what they're doing is a big deal, especially now."

To be eligible to leave for Thanksgiving dinner, recruits are required to have finished at least half of their nine-week training.

"It feels good to have people taking care of you. I'm very excited about it," said Seaman Recruit Johana Saavedra, 23, of New York City. "I think it's going to be great to meet new people and get to know people from Chicago."