When David Silver, founder of Operation Yellow Ribbon of South Jersey, saw the eBay photos of rock band Pearl Jam memorabilia, he knew the items had belonged to Army veteran and antiwar activist Tomas Young. Volunteers at the Formerly Yours thrift shop in Phoenicia, who posted the items on eBay, knew the donation had come from a soldier injured in Iraq, but they had no idea he had been the subject of the documentary Body of War, produced by TV host Phil Donahue in 2007.
The United Methodist Church of Phoenicia was grateful to receive the proceeds of the sale, which will pay for a portion of the deep cleaning required for the church sanctuary and the basement, which houses the popular thrift shop. As the congregants mobilize to address their new pastor’s allergic reaction to the historic church building, they are also a holding fundraising event, a Drive-Thru BBQ, on Sunday, August 5, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The Tomas Young/Pearl Jam/Phoenicia thrift shop story begins with Young’s enlistment in the Army after the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. According to his New York Times obituary in 2014, he was hoping to go to Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden had plotted the assaults. Instead, Young was sent to Iraq, to fight a war he considered misguided. On his fifth day in Iraq, his spine was severed by sniper fire, and he became paralyzed from the chest down.
While Young was under treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, his mother asked if there was someone he’d like to meet. He suggested Ralph Nader, and his mother arranged a meeting. Donahue, who had come out against the Iraq War, accompanied Nader and was so moved by Young’s plight that he decided to make a documentary about the young man’s experience. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam had been a supporter of Nader’s presidential campaigns, and Vedder offered to write and perform two songs for the film.
Vedder and Young became friends, and Pearl Jam, known for their commitment to humanitarian causes, sang about Young at their concerts and even brought him onstage. David Silver, who describes himself as “a huge Pearl Jam fan,” attended some of those concerts. Silver has never been in the military. “I was born and bred to go to college and study and get a job and have a white picket fence with dogs and kids,” he explained in a phone interview. “I didn’t even know the military was an option. But the older I got, the more grateful I got, seeing the stuff our soldiers were doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m complaining about the weather and my electric bill, when people are coming back with paralysis and missing limbs, missing the birth of their children. They don’t get to tuck their kids in night.”
Silver, who has two children and works as a business analyst at a bank, decided he had to do something to give back to veterans. Galvanized by Pearl Jam and the film about Young, he created a non-profit organization that sends packages of treats and hygiene products to soldiers deployed in the Middle East and puts together celebrations to welcome them home as heroes. However, he shares the antiwar sentiment of the documentary. “Men and women sign up to serve our country,” he pointed out, “and elected officials make decisions not in our best interest.”
One day he saw the batch of Pearl Jam items listed on eBay and knew if he resold them individually, he could make a profit to benefit his organization. Rose Dorn, wife of church trustee Peter DiSclafani, posted the items on eBay, hoping the sale would bring in money to help clean up the church. Peggy Ann Sauerhoff, who recently took over as pastor at both the Phoenicia church and the Reservoir Methodist Church in Shokan, has environmental allergies and found that “her throat closed up” when in the sanctuary, said thrift shop manager Leatrice Winchell. Tests showed the sanctuary did not have a mold problem, so congregants embarked on a thorough cleaning of the carpeting and pews, assuming that dust was responsible. Air filters have been installed, and estimates have been solicited for dehumidifying and sealing off the basement.
The $2400 netted from the Pearl Jam sale has helped defray the costs, but about $12,000 will be required to complete the cleaning process. Grants are being pursued, and the parishioners are consumed with fundraising, trying to keep their community-oriented church afloat.
The United Methodist Church of Phoenicia will hold a Drive-Thru BBQ, on Sunday, August 5, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. From Main Street, drive north on Route 214, take the first right onto Tremper Avenue at the firehouse, then stop at the church just before the turn onto Church Street. For $10 per person, you’ll get pulled pork, a bun, baked beans, cole slaw, corn on the cob, and more, all to go.