PUNXSUTAWNEY — In the real spirit of Thanksgiving, area residents demonstrated their appreciation for the service of the American troops in Afghanistan by generously responding to a drive to send gifts to the men and women serving abroad.
Sponsored by the Jefferson County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees (PASR), the project encouraged people of all ages to drop off snack foods, stationery, toiletry items and other merchandise which the troops have requested.
Under the direction of Charlotte S. Fye, collection boxes were placed at six participating stores: Comet Market and County Market in Punxsutawney; Mike’s Supermarket in Brookville; Mike’s BiLo Market in Reynoldsville; Martino’s Supermarket in Brockway; and Wachob’s Store in Big Run.
After only three weeks, the campaign resulted in the filling of 50 boxes, which have been transported to Indiana, where volunteers for the Soldiers’ Angels program at St. Bernard’s Church will finish sorting, packing, and shipping the gifts to several chaplains in Afghanistan. The contents of the packages will then be distributed to the troops in the fields.
The Soldiers’ Angels is a national group that supports members of the U.S. Armed Forces with care package supplies. Under its umbrella, the organization has 30 different programs, all of which involve various kinds of support for military personnel and their families.
Kim Kordell of the Homer City area, who heads the Indiana program, was surprised and delighted when a group of PASR members arrived at St. Bernard Saturday morning with the thousands of items from Jefferson County.
“This is just amazing,” she said. “I cannot believe that you were able to get so much. I am always pleased to see that people are really generous when it comes to helping our troops. Our units will be so happy to have the wonderful items you have given.”
Kordell added, “We are currently working hard on our Christmas Stockings for Soldiers project. We are stuffing 200 handmade stockings to get out to a military police battalion in Kandahar...We plan to have those stockings out the first week of December, so your items will help us out greatly!”
Adding to the joy was the presentation of three hundred dollars which members of the PASR Chapter had donated to help underwrite the cost of postage, which averages about one dollar per pound.
Commenting on the success of the local campaign, Charlotte Fye said that she, too, was “overwhelmed by the generosity” of area residents. Several of the drop-off sites received so many goods that she had to make three or four trips to pick up the donations “which just kept coming.”
Having personally sorted and packed the boxes, Fye stated, “I think I am safe in estimating that the county’s gifts would be valued at close to $5,000. This project proves once again that people around here have very generous hearts when it comes to supporting worthwhile activities like this.”
In addition to the individuals and families who contributed candy, gum, razor blades, toothbrushes, playing cards, snacks, first aid supplies, etc., a group of ladies from the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Sykesville and another group from St. Mary’s Church in Reynoldsville each filled a shopping cart with items for the troops.
One of the most surprising large assortment of gifts came from the students, teachers and the PTA at Charles G. Johnson School in Reynoldsville. While doing her family shopping at Mike’s BiLo, a PTA officer spotted the “Support the Troops” display. She picked up one of the suggested shopping lists and took it to the organization. In turn, the PTA worked with the school to distribute the lists to the classes and then sponsor a seven-day drive.
Since the children had already been involved in planning Veterans’ Day activities, it was a natural follow-up to their studies to encourage them to bring in gifts to be sent to the soldiers. Fye said, “When we went to the school to pick up their contributions, I couldn’t believe how much they had collected. The entire trunk and the whole back seat of our car were stuffed with supplies from C.G. Johnson School.”
On a more personal note, Fye commented that “a young student had attached to a package of snacks a sheet from a little notebook on which he or she had carefully printed, ‘Thank you to our troops for serving our country.’ As a personal touch, the child had included a small sheet of Star Wars stickers. We made sure that particular gift was sent along with the rest of the things designated for Afghanistan.”
Echoing the sentiments of Fye and Kordell was Bob Barone, president of the county chapter of PASR. He said, “Our organization is so glad to be a part of this project to thank the troops by showing our support by sending them some of the things they need and request. All of us appreciate the cooperation and help of the stores that provided space; we are very thankful for everyone who contributed merchandise and gifts.”
Barone also acknowledged the assistance of Joe Albino, who volunteered the use of his truck to haul a load of the filled boxes to Indiana. Senior class president, Adam Murdock, also helped by packing many of the heaviest and most bulky packages onto the truck. PASR members who lent a helping hand were S. Thomas Curry, Ursula Albino, Roxie Miles, Bob Barone, and the Fyes.