Members of the Army's 1st Brigade combat team, 101st Airborne Division (air assault) recently left Fort Campbell, Ky., for deployment in Afghanistan, but not without the support of some Peninsula students.
Since 2012, kids at Hillsborough's Crocker Middle School have been collecting goods and sending them to the troops as part of their Adopt-A-Unit program, a collaborative effort between the school, the city of Hillsborough and the Hillsborough Police Department. In a recent ceremony, an armored vehicle from a county SWAT team arrived on campus, where the students filled it with the latest batch of care packages that were then driven to the Hillsborough Town Hall for shipping preparation.
Crocker Middle School teacher Audrey Fairchild said the students enjoy collecting the donated items and many of them feel personally connected to the troops because some enlisted men and women are only a few years older than Crocker's students. Many of the youngsters also have family members who have served in the armed forces, Fairchild added.
Hillsborough Adopt-a-Unit coordinator LeAnn Thornton said that in addition to food, toiletries and other items that provide troops with “the comforts of home,” the students have also collected plenty of Christmas decorations and Santa hats for their adopted unit, which deployed in mid-November. After Halloween, more than 100 pounds of candy was also collected. The candy, Thornton said, is shipped to the troops in sealed sandwich bags, both for the enjoyment of military personnel, and to be handed out to Afghan children.
The school's involvement in Adopt-a-Unit began when Thornton — a member of the Hillsborough Police Department and a United Service Organization volunteer — approached Fairchild to see if Crocker's students would be willing to sign a banner with greetings for deployed service members. This lead to the youths asking what else they could do in support of the soldiers, Fairchild said.
The social studies teacher added that the decision to ask the students' families to contribute was not made lightly because parents in the affluent community receive similar requests fairly often.
“We don't want to saturate the parents too much with our constant requests for saving the planet,” Fairchild quipped.
Addressing homelessness has been another priority for the students, along with other altruistic projects including an initiative to provide uniforms for a soccer team in Mexico, she noted.
The student care packages have offered a way to show appreciation for the troops, many of whom are away from home for the first time, and who often get homesick for “silly” things like Skittles and M&M's, according to Fairchild. Other items on soldiers' wish lists have included cold medicines, eye drops, sunscreen, prepaid calling cards and powdered flavor packets for water.
Some of the most in-demand items for the care packages are “magazines, writing pens, and junk food,” Fairchild said, but it's those little things have great value to the recipients.
“They miss home,” the teacher noted. “They're asking for connections to home, and those come in the form of the most humble things.”