A neat pile of white and red boxes was growing in the corner of the gym at Lodi Seventh-Day Adventist Elementary School on Tuesday morning.
Each was carefully decorated by a student with American flags, drawings of Santa Claus and Christmas scenes. Some students had scrawled on boxes messages of encouragement, thanks and hope for a safe return home.
These packages were stuffed full of soups, ravioli, granola bars, beef jerky, cookies, crackers, raisins, candy, nuts and gum, as well as socks and some toiletries. Each one was addressed to a pair of soldiers currently deployed in Afghanistan.
To thank some of the 108,000 soldiers currently deployed overseas, the school teamed up with the local Project Thank You. When a postal truck arrived at 2 p.m. to pick them up, the pile had grown to 200 boxes.
“We just try to use a little common sense,” said Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal, explaining how they decide what to send.
Youngman-Westphal calls herself the official beggar for Project Thank You, a local organization that helped the school gather donations and manage the care package assembly lines. Strictly speaking, she’s the director of ways and means for the group. She speaks to groups around Lodi to raise awareness and gather donations.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to give back to this group of citizens,” said Youngman-Westphal, who began working with the organization in January of last year after her grandson’s unit was deployed.
Each grade level had a chance to stop by the gym and fill their box for the soldiers.
Third-grader Abby Griffith smiled as she listed the surprises packed into each box. “We put socks in there, so they can have warm feet,” she said.
“We get a lot during the holiday season, so we wanted to give back,” said Maddie Katzakian, a seventh-grader.
Some parents and teachers were on-hand to supervise the package assembly.
“It’s awesome to see the younger generation have pride in our troops,” said Casey Snider, the mother of a third-grader and kindergartner at the school who came out to help. “I really think they get it.”
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.