America Supports You: New Englanders Collect Gifts for Troops
By Carmen L. Burgess
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2006 Thousands of students from the Merrimack Valley Region of Massachusetts and New Hampshire donated more than 22,000 gifts for deployed troops this holiday season.
The students took part in the largest drive yet organized by New England Caring for Our Military, an America Supports You member organization. ASY is a Defense Department program that focuses on connecting support groups throughout the nation with the men and women of the armed forces at home and abroad.
The gift drive, dubbed “It Takes a Valley,” kicked off in November and ended Dec. 9. Some 6,000 students in grades kindergarten through high school participated, collecting items to send to the troops from a list provided by New England Caring for our Military.
“They put their lives on hold for us, to preserve our freedom,” Organization founder James SereigWareing said of the troops being supported through the effort. “It’s the least we can do for them.”
The organization started holiday care packages to the troops in 2004.
The 22,000 items collected by the community were combined to make more than 10,000 individual gift sets, sent in cases to units, as well as entire platoons.
The care packages, sent to troops stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Korea, Japan and Africa, also included 7,000 handmade holiday greeting cards and posters.
Sereigo-Wareing said packaging the items turned out to be a community effort. Students, senior citizens and people with mental and physical disabilities pitched in to pack the 2.2 tons of gifts that were shipped over a six-day period.
“Taking all segments of the population to work on a project is very powerful,” he said.
Sereigo-Wareing said he works with local school systems to collect items and letters for care packages, to help send a message. “I try to teach students respect for the military because they will be our future leaders,” he said. “Imagine how many lives we impact when students get involved.”
The reward, he said, will be knowing that troops have something special to open for the holidays.
“I want them to feel like they are home,” he said. He ensured that “fun” items such as puzzles, cards, books and board games made it into the packages in addition to telephone cards, socks and T-shirts.
“It’s probably always hard for troops to be far away from home, but especially hard on the holidays,” he said. “I use this as an opportunity to try to pay them back for my freedom.”
Sereigo-Wareing said he believes the handmade greetings from the students will go a long way to boost morale and reinforce to the men and women serving in the military that U.S. citizens support them and honor their dedication and service.