Afghan Outreach Effort Snowballs Into Community Project
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2004 David Buchanan said he knew he'd get a strong response when the Dale City (Va.) Volunteer Fire Department put out the word that one of its former members now a career fireman deployed with his Army Reserve unit to Afghanistan wanted winter coats and school supplies for Afghan children.
"We're a strong brotherhood," said Buchanan, equipment manager for the department.
When Army Sgt. Ben Jost wrote his parents thanking them for a care package they had sent him, he told them next time to send items for the local children instead.
Jost's younger sister took his request directly to the fire department her brother served as a volunteer before becoming a career firefighter. He deployed to Afghanistan last July with the Army Reserve's Company B, 5th Platoon, 116th Infantry.
Buchanan said the department started putting out the word to volunteers and career firefighters at the four Dale City stations, mostly through signs and internal e-mails. He said he expected to collect enough items to fill a few boxes to ship off to Jost.
The effort snowballed. Firefighters started sharing information about it with local Boy Scout troops, churches, schools and other organizations. Local newspapers and TV stations started doing stories on the effort. Companies began calling to donate money to buy the needed items. Donations began pouring in. An elderly woman more than 50 miles away called to say she had knitted 50 hats to send to Afghanistan.
Buchanan said his storage facility is starting to bulge at the seams, with donations continuing to pour in. He estimates that the effort has generated about 200 boxes of winter clothes and school supplies.
"I knew we'd get a strong response internally," Buchanan said. "What I never expected was to get such an outpouring from the community. This has managed to generate more interest than we ever imagined."
Now the firefighters are investigating ways to ship the donations to Afghanistan, possibly on a military aircraft, so they're assured they reach their final destination intact and before the most brutal winter weather rolls in.
Buchanan said the effort, initially launched to support a fellow firefighter, has become a heartwarming example of community outreach. "A lot of people see this as an opportunity for us to help some children who really need it," he said. "It's also a way to generate future goodwill" toward the United States.
"It's the beginning of being able to turn the tide of opinion and to start building new future relationships," he said.