Students send traveling hearts overseas
BLACKSBURG — Many handmade cards and heart-shaped treats will travel from desk to desk or locker to locker today in schools throughout the country.
Thanks to the efforts of Rachel Potters, one group of students from Margaret Beeks Elementary School is sending Valentine’s Day gifts on a much farther journey.
With help from Potters, a parent of students at the elementary school, Lindsey Sams’ third-grade class spent Friday afternoon creating Valentine’s Day cards to be mailed to U.S. Army troops currently serving in Afghanistan.
Although it was the first time many of the students had mailed something to the troops, the good deed is becoming routine for the Potters family, who have been shipping packages to troops for the past four years.
Their work began in 2009 when Potters mailed a care package from the downtown Christiansburg post office to one of her husband’s friends who was serving in Iraq. Potters said longtime postal clerk Marvin Jarels, who died in 2010, took notice and thanked her for her efforts.
Potters said Jarels told her how much similar packages had meant to him during his time serving in the Army in Vietnam and that he wished more people would mail items and letters to the troops overseas today.
Inspired by Jarels, Potters said her family began sending care packages, most often containing personal hygiene products and various goodies, about every other month. She said the family often used the website AnySoldier.com to find a male and female soldier in units with a large number of troops so the soldiers could share the packages with their fellow soldiers.
Over the years, the family’s work became such a staple activity that it served as the topic of Potters’ 10-year-old son Shane’s Winning Choices Essay. The fifth-grader took first-place honors at the school and on Friday was presented with a certificate, along with a $100 American Express gift card as a reward.
Shane said he knew the troops didn’t have much in the way of personal items when they were overseas and thought the gifts helped to not only provide for those needs, but also to provide encouragement.
“When we send packages, we’re sending a little boost,” he said.
That thought was echoed by many of the third-graders who participated Friday by inking holiday wishes, along with thank-yous, on red, pink and purple cards, covered in hearts.
“They really do a lot for our country, and I wanted to thank them for keeping us safe,” said student Claire Reinhardt.
Many adults have also been inspired by Potters’ efforts.
Girl Scout troop leader Kelli Wheeler noticed Potters buying several boxes of Girl Scout cookies to send overseas at her troop’s stand last month. After explaining Potters’ purpose to the members of the Christiansburg-based Troop 343, she said the girls decided they, too, wanted to pitch in and help the soldiers.
Wheeler said Potters walked her through the process, and before long, the troop was collecting money to purchase and send as many of the $4 boxes of cookies as possible.
Wheeler said the five Cadettes have collected enough funds to send more than 30 boxes, and they plan to continue collecting through March 9, their final day of selling in front of the Christiansburg Kroger.
Potter said she’s enjoyed the feedback from some of the overseas troops. Most of the cards are filled with thank-yous and well-wishes, but Potters has received the occasional complaint that the treats might make it hard to maintain military weight standards.
By Tuesday, Potters said that Friday’s batch of cards, along with some treats she added, were on their way to Christiansburg’s Corp. Caitlyn Winemiller and her unit, who are serving in Afghanistan. She believes the Valentine’s Day package from Blacksburg will be celebrated there in about two weeks.
For more information about sending letters and packages to troops overseas, visit www.AnySoldier.com.
For more information regarding Girl Scout Troop 343’s cookie drive for the troops, email Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1643
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