February 11, 2009
CHS students reach out to troops in Afghanistan
School’s Interact club sending care packages to soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cortland High School seniors, from left, Cody Smith, Nadine Khazzaka and Kyle Quail organize and pack care packages Friday to be shipped to soldiers in Afghanistan.
Rows of shaving cream canisters sat on top of a Valentine’s Day cake, the kind of pastry meant to survive a long shipment.
That was only one side of a box bound for Afghanistan. The problem was, how to pack it tightly so the canisters did not bounce around.
Five Cortland High School students gathered around the carton on a desk in teacher Christine Gregory’s classroom. They rearranged the other items it contained: magazines, canned food, bags of chips, white socks, toothpaste and razors.
On one side, they had taped a card saying how much the Interact Club appreciated what the recipients, soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, were doing for America. Seniors Melanie del Rosario, Cody Smith and Kyle Quail sealed the box and made sure it was ready to go.
Once a week, Interact members gather at Gregory’s classroom to do something for people they have never met. Interact, which is part of Rotary Club, is asking the public to donate items and money for shipping them.
The boxes are shipped to the soldiers in the Korengal Valley in Konar Province, on the Pakistan border.
“The soldiers very much appreciate anybody in the community donating,” said Gregory, who teaches economics and social studies. “They will be there for a year. Many of their parents can’t afford to send a package more than once a year.”
The project started last year, after then-senior Mairead Kiernan heard a story that many military personnel deployed in Iraq lacked toiletry items and the kind of food they could microwave on their own.
“Rachel Gordon (another senior) got it going,” said del Rosario, Interact’s president. “We started smaller. We weren’t able to get shipments out, due to lack of money. Then we got a $500 grant from Disabled American Veterans, which helped when donations weren’t enough.”
The students sent packages last year to 2nd Cavalry soldiers stationed at Camp Liberty, Iraq. This year, since that unit had returned to the U.S., they chose the unit in Afghanistan, partly because Fort Drum is relatively nearby, north of Watertown.
This unit also has a local connection: Brenda Wawro, a counselor at Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES, whose husband, Kenneth, is deployed there. The soldiers have begun corresponding with the Cortland High School students via e-mail, sending photographs of themselves. Seven of them are women.
Among other things, they can offer suggestions on what the students should send.
“We get DVDs sometimes,” Smith said. “In our last package, we sent Christmas movies and humorous movies.”
Interact raises money not just through donations but by managing the school store, splitting those profits with the Student Council. Interact has also been raising money for the YMCA’s Family Reading Partnership. The students work, with money from the Rotary Club, to purchase books for the program’s Bright Red Bookshelf, a collection of children’s books.
The club organizes publicity for Helping Hands food pantries in Cortland and Cortland County’s Area Agency on Aging’s nutrition programs.
On March 7, the club will join other Interact Clubs from the Southern Tier region in a district conference at Tompkins Cortland Community College. The conference will focus on efforts to eliminate polio.
The club will host a fundraiser breakfast on March 8 at Applebee’s restaurant on Route 13.
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