Two Boston-area sheet metal groups have supported veterans and their families for more than two decades.

It was the winter of 1991 when Jeff Chase made a motion to divert SMACNA advertising funds to the families of American troops serving in Iraq as part of Operation Desert Storm.

Chase, president of Cox Engineering Co., is a member of the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association’s Boston chapter, a New England trade association of union sheet metal and air-conditioning contractors. At their chapter meeting in a Boston hotel in 1991, Chase made a motion.

“A lot of our employees and office staff were being called to serve in Desert Storm,” Chase said.

The company had been talking about buying advertising with the Celtics and Bruins professional sports teams to promote SMACNA Boston.

“It just came to me at the end of the meeting: Why not give that money to the families of our troops instead,” he recalled. “I just threw the idea out to the 25 SMACNA contractors at the meeting, and nobody dissented. It was unanimous — we didn’t need a formal vote.”

The program stopped with the end of the Gulf War. But in March 2003, SMACNA Boston decided to revive it.


Today, SMACNA Boston uses money from its general operating fund to support military families, whether its member is deployed or actively serving at home.

“Each family receives $900 a month,” Chase said. “SMACNA donates $500 and the other $400 comes from (Sheet Metal Workers union) Local 17.  Today, there are up to 15 families we are supporting at any given time. It’s just too bad our kids have to deal with this. They really shouldn’t have to.”

Tom Gunning is executive director of SMACNA Boston. The association has continuously supported U.S. military troops and their families through several programs funded by its contractor members.

According to Gunning, three SMACNA Boston contractors’ sons have attended the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy.

“Supporting our military is a natural fit for SMACNA Boston’s charitable efforts,” he added. “Our troops sacrifice so much for our well-being at home —we need to remember how fortunate we are and take care of our own.”

SMACNA Boston spends approximately $50,000 on military programs each year, with fluctuations depending on need.

Rick Donohue, the vice president and treasurer at Harrington Bros. Corp., is another member of SMACNA. Donohue is an U.S. Army veteran. Drafted in 1972, he remembers serving in an unpopular war.

“A lot of us served at a time when it was not cool to be in the military. The day I was discharged, I was spit on at Oakland International Airport,” he said. “If we can bring a little smile to a face of a lonely soldier far away from his or her friends and family, then it’s all worth it.  We need to keep in mind that all the freedoms we have are because of their effort.”

Donohue’s son, Evan, recently enlisted in the Army.


Donohue is one of the originators of CarePacks, a nonprofit, volunteer organization dedicated to sending packages to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It began with one package Donohue sent to his son-in-law eight years ago. CarePacks recently celebrated sending its 15,000th package.

“Through the end of 2011, we spent $170,000 on shipping and $202,000 on everything that went into the boxes,” he said. “SMACNA contractors have been very generous to our cause.”

The contractor members of SMACNA Boston pull their employees from Sheet Metal Workers Local 17 and have received the same commitment from the union’s leadership. The union and the contractors focus first on those members who serve in the military. Cox Engineering employs six of them, all through Local 17’s apprenticeship program and an affiliated national program called “Helmets to Hardhats.”

Harrington Bros. Corp. also enthusiastically employs military sheet metal workers. Stephen McKunes is one of them.

McKunes recently returned from a tour in the Air Force Reserve. Having returned from a four-month deployment to a base in southwest Asia in 2009, McKunes said he was glad to have his apprenticeship spot waiting for him through the Helmets to Hardhats program.

He had already gone through two of the five years of apprenticeship training at Local 17 when he was deployed for four months in 2009.

“Then I came back to continue my apprenticeship and the Air Force activated me three times to our home station at Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee,” he said. “I spent seven months there in 2010, about a month in 2011, and just returned home a few weeks ago from a three-month activation.”

McKunes was hired by Harrington Bros. and will reach journeyman status in spring 2013.


SMACNA Boston donated $5,000 raised at a membership meeting last Christmas for the Fisher House Boston, which serves wounded soldiers and their families.  The Fisher House Foundation donates “comfort homes,” built on the grounds of major military and Veterans Administration medical centers. These homes enable family members to be close to a loved one during stressful times.

Jen Deluca, assistant to the board of directors, said the $5,000 donated by SMACNA Boston was timely.

 “It just happened that last winter was the first time we’ve had to reach out to a hotel since our suites were all filled. We will never turn a family away,” Deluca said. “That $5,000 enabled us to provide the hotel rooms our families needed.”

It’s the way the company is, Gunning added.

 “We feel strongly at SMACNA Boston that as an employers association, we need to take care of our employees, our military and our community,” he said.

This article and its images were supplied by SMACNA Boston and Sheet Metal Workers Local 17. For reprints, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or email