By Konstantine Fekos
VERNON TOWNSHIP —
Of the countless charities and causes she could’ve chosen to benefit with her senior project, Meghan Leri wanted most of all to donate to U.S. soldiers.
“A senior project should be for charity, I feel,” said Leri, who collected 935 items for Project Support Our Troops with the help of her fellow schoolmates at Meadville Area Senior High School. “I really appreciate the soldiers; that’s something I think about.”
Just the thought of servicemen and women spending time away from the warmth and comforts of home and family at Christmastime was enough to inspire Leri to spend two weeks gathering items and several hours counting and transporting them.
She even enlisted teachers to help post signs and keep collection boxes for students to drop off items.
“I was really surprised when I went to the school for pick-up last Friday,” Leri said, wondering at the time how she would pack everything into her car. “I really didn’t expect that much. I’m really happy with the response.”
Volunteers and organizers for Project Support Our Troops are happy with the outcome, too, especially around this time of year when they ship hundreds of care packages to soldiers overseas.
Leri contacted Laurie Davis, local Project Support Our Troops organizer, who supplied her with a list of nonperishable foods, clothing, hygiene products and other items needed.
Given the opportunity, Leri and her mother, Robin, also joined the Christmas packaging session Monday evening at the Veterans of the Vietnam War Post 52 in Vernon Township.
“I’m just overwhelmed by the outpouring from the MASH student body,” Robin Leri said. “I was so proud of all of them. They really gave of themselves.”
Davis expressed her thanks to Leri and many other local students from technical institutes and other schools she says give tremendously year-round.
“We have some great kids making a difference for us,” Davis said. “Some collect items, others collect money for shipping and purchases. Without these kids, I don’t know what we’d do. ”
The near-thousand items from Leri and MASH give Project Support Our Troops a little more supply this year, but with 50 to 75 boxes shipped every month and hundreds more expected for the holidays, the cause always needs more items, Davis emphasized.
“People can donate items, money and any talents they can offer,” she said. “There are many ways people can help and we will put them to work.”
And there are many soldiers deployed overseas who appreciate the remembrance during the Christmas season — just ask their mothers.
“These are our military, our troops,” said Kathy Pipper of Meadville, holding a care package for her son, deployed to Kosovo two months ago. “This is a very good idea and it means a lot, especially for those who can’t come home for the holidays.”
Meadville resident Sharri Rickel also packed a box for her son, deployed in Afghanistan, who she said will experience his first Christmas away from home.
“We ship to anyone,” Davis said. “They all have a job to do and we don’t judge whether they’re in a war zone or not. They’re still separated, still away from home.”
Project Support Our Troops has shipped Christmas care packages to U.S. soldiers in numerous countries, including Germany, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Italy and Japan.
“Even if we don’t think they’re in danger zones, all places, especially the open seas, can be dangerous,” Davis said. “Our troops can be attacked at any time. We want to let them know they’re not forgotten and they’re appreciated. That’s our sole purpose.”
You can help
Anyone interested in making monetary or care package donations or volunteering their time to Project Support Our Troops can contact organizers Laurie Davis at 547-4141 and Kim Lengling at 724-9099.
Items most in need are On-the-Go powder drink mix; beef jerky; canned fruit (no plastic), especially peaches and pineapples; fruit cocktail; baby and foot powder; lip balm; and trail mix.
Other items frequently requested include wet wipes, hand sanitizer, instant coffee packets, non-aerosol air freshener, Cracker Jacks, small sizes of toothpaste, toothbrushes, small Kleenex packs, socks, hand-held games, Pringles, small packs or tins of cookies, small packs of gum, hard candy, snack cracker packs, tea bags, AT&T pre-paid phone cards, stationery, eye drops, bandanas (tan), underwear (male/female), shower scrubbies, playing cards, small size lotion, crossword puzzles, cotton balls, Q-tips, pens/pencils, cards/letters of support, non-aerosol bug repellent, deodorant, tuna/cracker packs, gummy bears and sunflower seeds.
Project Support Our Troops specifically requests Ramen noodles not be donated.
Donations can be mailed to Project Support Our Troops, 13240 Dunham Road, Meadville, Pa. 16335.
Items can also be dropped at the following locations during their respective normal operating hours: Veterans of the Vietnam War Post 52; The Meadville Tribune; Fox’s Sew n Vac, Downtown Mall, Meadville; State Farm Insurance, Linesville; Cambridge Springs Rehab and Nursing Center; Area Shopper, Cochranton; First Presbyterian Church, Meadville; Pederson Insurance, Cochranton; state Rep. Brad Roae, Downtown Mall, Meadville; Flick’s TV and Appliance, Vernon Township; Laurie’s Embroidery, Meadville; Jeron Jewelers, Meadville; Kentucky Fried Chicken, Park Avenue Plaza, Meadville; Rolling Fields Inc., Conneautville; Hagan Business Machines of Meadville Inc.; and Street Track and Trail, Conneaut Lake.
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.