Gladys Rodriguez is an American in love with her country. Sure, she loves her husband and her children and her job, but she really loves America in a way that only people who have lived in other places can.
The Crofton resident said it is the home she “chose.”
Rodriguez and her husband immigrated from Cuba (via Chile) in 1970 and took the oath of citizenship on July 4, 1976 at Fort McHenry in Baltimore.
Rodriguez works full time in Davidsonville at .
But spend a few minutes talking to Rodriguez about her story and she quickly moves the conversation to her enthusiasm for a charity close to her heart.
That charity is the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, which helps wounded warriors and their families with financial assistance and other necessities.
Rodriguez has raised more than $40,000 for the Semper Fi Fund through sales of a cookbook that she self-published with recipes from military wives and mothers.
It started in July 2009. Rodriguez had been visiting wounded soldiers at National Naval Medical Center-Bethesda. But she wanted to do more.
“I love this country, and there are people out there fighting for us. Whether you believe in the war or not, we have an obligation to these people who are coming back,” Rodriguez said.
All of the funds from the Family Cookbook: Recipes from Marines, Family and Friends go to the Semper Fi Fund. She started in 2009 with 1,000 copies that she self-published with a cookbook-making company in the Midwest.
Rodriguez retyped the recipes sent to her, sorted them by type, categorized them and sent them to the printing company.
Brian Riddle, owner of Homestead Gardens said, "having grown up in a family of military veterans, I am particulary proud of Gladys' hard work in promoting the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund Family Cookbook. It is a fantastic way to support our troops and her dedication to their mission has been ceaseless. At Homestead Gardens, we are honored to be a part of such a noble endeavour."
But even though her cookbook has met with success and is keeping her busy raising money for the fund, Rodriguez continues to go to the National Naval Center, now called Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, to bring food for the families and soldiers. She goes with Marine Moms-Bethesda.
Jane LeCompte is the founder of the Marine Moms-Bethesda chapter and said that not only has Gladys poured her heart and soul into the cookbook, but that numerous family members and patients come forward to "tell us what a blessing the financial aid provided by the Semper Fi Fund has been and that the support is deeply appreciated."
"Marine Moms-Bethesda is very grateful to have Gladys, and her husband, Bob, as part of our luncheon team," LeCompte said.
“The cafeteria is closed on Sunday and there aren't that many food places close to the medical center. But the families are still with the wounded warriors and they still have to eat. It is just a little something,” Rodriguez said.
They bring homemade food or sometimes pick up subs from Giant.
"They are so grateful, they say 'thank you so much, I'm so sick of hospital food,'" Rodriguez said. “The need is very big. It is not in the paper every day. The injuries are so severe, mostly amputees."
She said that the Semper Fi Fund has representatives at each hospital. When a family comes in, the hospital puts them in touch with Semper Fi.
They fill out forms for what their needs are. Do they need to pay bills and keep current while they are taking off from work? Do they need a computer for some of the traumatic brain injury patients? Do they need to have their home or vehicle modified for a wheelchair or a patient who is missing limbs.
“They offer so much support,” Rodriguez said of the fund.
Semper Fi began with just $500 and the inspiration of a nurse, Karen Gunter, at the Navy hospital in Camp Pendleton, CA. Gunther was also married to a service member. Since April 2003, the fund has given out $55 million to returning injured service members and their families. Each month they average giving about $900,000 to $1 million in assistance, according to their website.
Rodriguez said that Semper Fi Fund has been given a four-star rating from Charity Navigator and is now getting the attention of big companies. She said that Home Depot recently gave a $500,000 grant to provide home modifications to injured soldiers.
It is so hard for these families, she said. They just get a phone call that changes everything.
"They say your son or daughter has been injured, and it is like you're like a deer in the headlights," she said.