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Friday, October 29, 2004

Students help our nation's soldiers

Eight-graders at Mount Airy Middle School are already entrenched in the holiday spirit, way before the season of giving has even rounded the corner.

With the help of Family Consumer Science teacher Louise Lance, several classes are helping with Soldiers' Angels, a nonprofit that provides aid and comfort to our military and their families.

Boys and girls alike are sewing holiday stockings and stuffing them with goodies, anything from trial-size toothpaste to Gatorade to socks to beef jerky and other snacks -- anything soldiers might need as they serve our country.

A display set up in the front lobby shows off trial-size toothpaste and bug repellant lotion, among other gifts for the soldiers to illustrate the types of things the eighth-graders want to fill the stockings with.

Another hot item for the stockings are calling cards.

The classes are participating in Operation Holiday Spirit, part of the Soldiers' Angels organization, which sends holiday gifts and spirit to the soldiers stationed overseas.

Jean Keltner of Sykesville, the organization's manager for Maryland, said Mount Airy Middle School is the only school in Maryland so far that is helping out specifically under Soldiers' Angels.

She calls Mount Airy Middle's efforts "Mount Airy Stockings for Soldiers." Meanwhile, all over the nation, schools are teaming up to send holiday cards, wishes, gifts and spirit. "It's hard to be away from your family for the holidays," Keltner said, adding that this is just one way the community is helping support soldiers.

She's lined up to speak at some classes in Eldersburg, and hopes that as time goes on, more schools will learn about the organization.

Keltner started out just looking for a way to help our soldiers back in February and found the Soldiers' Angels Web site.

The organization has between 10,000 and 15,000 angels across the nation, from Alaska to Hawaii and everywhere in between, working to support soldiers. "It's amazing to read the stuff to support our troops," Keltner said. "It's very addicting, in a positive way."

Lance agreed. She said she hopes to continue the project next year, and hopes to get the stockings sent out by next week.

Mixed in with a variety of hand-sewn socks are colorful holiday cards (and not just in Christmas colors), decorated with markers and warm holiday wishes. Cards include handwritten notes, often lengthy, that thank the soldiers and bring news from home. One card thanked a soldier for his or her service and cheered on the Boston Red Sox, in the World Series for the first time in almost two decades. Another just thanked soldiers for all they are doing and wished them happy holidays.

The cards will accompany the red-and-white stockings stocked with goodies and treats.

By the end of this week, Lance hopes to have 197 stockings stuffed, placed in priority mail boxes (to get to their destinations quicker) and ready to be mailed to their adopted unit, 1st Battalion, 7th Artillery of the Army.

Lance said she got involved when her oldest daughter's boyfriend was fighting the war in Afghanistan. She sent boxes two soldiers about two or so years ago and enjoyed contributing. "You feel helpless. ... Everyone wants to help in some way," Lance said.

And the extra support can be so meaningful to many of the soldiers. Lance told of a soldier given two weeks to live recently, after being wounded in the war and discovering he had spinal cancer. When Soldiers' Angels found out, the organization sent flowers and balloons and other trinkets to wish the soldier well. The soldier had been in foster care all his life and had no real family, so Soldiers' Angels stepped up to the task, following the organization's motto "may no soldier go unloved." He's now living well beyond his original two weeks' notice.

Lance said the eighth-graders' efforts are part of the Angel Club, which is comprised of Mount Airy Middle students who want to raise money and awareness and volunteer time and effort for causes like Soldiers' Angels, or Project Linus, a national organization that provides blankets to ill children.

The club has also worked in the community, helping other families make ends meet: a local boy with cancer, and a large family, who's father had been diagnosed with cancer, are among two who received profits from fundraising.

The club also has a holiday shop, and money goes back into the community, and the club makes polar fleece hats and scarves, sells them inexpensively so anyone can purchase the gifts for themselves or for friends and family, Lance said.

She hopes to have all the stockings sewn and stuffed by this Friday; she has four sewing machines ready for the students to use.

She said she'll hold the stockings to be mailed until no later than Friday, November 5; she'd like to get the stockings out as soon as possible so the soldiers can begin using them.

Principal Virginia G. Savell said she was appreciates the work Lance is doing. "She could accomplish the curriculum goals without [the projects,]" Savell said.

"Kids ... caring for others, it's a really terrific thing," Savell said of Lance's projects. And it's more meaningful when the kids work on projects that can affect others in positive ways, she added.

For information about Soldiers' Angels, visit the Web site at www.soldiersangels.com. To donate supplies for the stockings, drop them by the front office at Mount Airy Middle School.

Students help our nation's soldiers

Brian Lewis/The Gazette
Eighth-grader Hannah Ehlman sews a stocking as part of a holiday project for soldiers in Iraq.

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