Afghanistan boundA chance connection and a curious child paved the way for a stack of packages to travel to Afghanistan
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
A chance connection and a curious child paved the way for a stack of packages to travel to Afghanistan, laden with gifts for a Marine platoon.
Last week, students in Britta DeSutter’s fourth grade classroom at Northern Lights Elementary School teamed up to pack the items for shipping – everything from socks and Chapstick to sunflower seeds and shampoo. In each of the six boxes rested letters from the students.
“Dear Soldier, Thank you for fighting in the war,” write Dillon Ingles-Johnson, 9. “I sent you guys five packages full of gum and a can full of nuts, three bags of sunflower seeds. I am planting seeds in school. The seeds we planted are sunflower seeds, carrot seeds, corn seeds and it’s taking forever to grow. Have you ever planted seeds? If you can write back, please do.”
Appreciation was evident in the short notes.
“Dear soldier, Thank you for serving our country,” wrote Rickey Retelney, 10. “Our class is planting seeds, how about you? Write back soon.”
When students were asked what the Marines will like best, some pointed to the Girl Scout cookies, Tootsie Rolls or signed Spartan football.
“It will remind them of home,” said Dennis Jarvis, 10.
Zach Lego, 9, said the project wasn’t just about items.
“I think they’re going to like that we sent them things to use,” he said. “They’ll know somebody cares about them.”
The project began when Mona Plunkett befriended a coworker at United Health Group. The woman, who was in Duluth to start a new team at the business, has a son serving with the Marines in Afghanistan. Plunkett’s son, Max, was already curious about the conflict in Afghanistan because a family member is heading there soon. Plunkett’s friend forwarded her pictures of the platoon, which sparked more questions from her son – how long they have to be there, whether they can call home, etc.
“Max was so amazed at how young some of the soldiers are,” Plunkett said.
She asked if he wanted to write to them. Then, she asked DeSutter if the teacher wanted to involve the entire class.
“It started out really small and then the kids started getting more and more excited about it,” DeSutter said.
They found connections between the current conflicts and classwork on World War II, the Great Depression and the Holocaust. In their community circle, they shared appreciations for the troops.
“It was a nice time to be able to talk about current events when we don’t do that a lot in fourth grade,” DeSutter said.
More questions came up at home.
“I know my son wondered why they wanted baby wipes and who doesn’t have Q-Tips and those questions led to more in-depth questions of why are our soldiers in Afghanistan, and what are the protecting and how long do they have to stay,” Plunkett said.
For two weeks, the children brought in donations from home.
“I gave them a list of the most needed items and the kids added to that list,” Plunkett said. “I was truly amazed and proud of how much stuff they collected.”
Last Friday, the items were packed up for travel. There were fun items like footballs and a Yahtzee game, comfort gifts like baby wipes and lip gloss, as well as a host of American snack items.
“And fresh socks so their feet don’t stink,” Rickey said.
Tricia Prior, 10, knows how important messages from home can be. Her father, a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard 950th Engineer Company based in Superior, is serving overseas in Iraq. She was happy to help out the Marines.
“I think it’s important because there’s more soldiers than just my dad and his troop,” Tricia said. “There’s a lot of soldiers. A lot of them are risking their lives for our lives.”
The small project grew into a large outpouring. More than six boxes are now on their way to Afghanistan, filled with gifts and good wishes. Plunkett said it’s important for youth and adults to remember that we have soldiers out there in war zones every day.
“And I am happy to know that at least one military unit will know that we have not forgotten where they are and what they’re doing,” she said.
DeSutter said the project could spark more than questions.
“With the project, my hope is that they’ll remember this and be more inclined to give again,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a big deal every time.”