Friends from Afar

April 10, 2003
Friends from Afar
By Howie Mansfield
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Catholic School Children Prepare Cards and Care Packages for Troops

BINGHAMTON — While American troops have been fighting the war in Iraq, students across the nation have been collecting items and making cards. The items gathered and created for the military men and women are being shipped overseas, to make life a little more bearable during wartime. St. Thomas Aquinas School in Binghamton has been working on its own project, busily collecting foods, movies and special items for care packages to be sent to Camp Doha in Kuwait. Sharon Slilaty, parent of three pre-K children at St. Thomas School, has been coordinating the care packages at the school. Slilaty has two friends at Camp Doha and a brother stationed in the Persian Gulf region.

Slilaty said the idea for the care packages came from a need to make a difference. “It’s a lot better than just sitting around and watching the TV with all of the war coverage,” Slilaty said. “I get really nervous, worry about my friends and brother. As soon as I got my brother’s address, I went to my basement and started making care packages and I felt better.”

The care package project spread to St. Thomas School. In over a month’s time, boxes overflowing with items have been seen at the school. Each of the grades joined the project, contributing items and handmade cards for the soldiers. Teachers were given a list of appropriate things which could be sent overseas and the students did the rest. “It was nice that we did that for the soldiers,” said Alexandra Chmielewski, 9, a third grader at the school. Arianna Young, 9, a third-grade student at St. Thomas School, said she enjoyed participating in the project. “We collected some food, and other stuff to give to them,” Arianna said. “Right now, I’m working on this Easter card. It says ‘Happy Easter, Happy Spring, Happy Happy Everything.’”

Third-grader Daniel Donovan, 9, said helping to make the soldiers’ day a little brighter was great. “We made a lot of cards and wrote letters to them. Some of us even sent our favorite toys — bears and stuff,” Daniel said. Slilaty said the personal items will be the most touching to those in the military. “One of the nicest things I saw was a child who put in a picture from a coloring book. It was of Winnie the Pooh and was just really well done,” Slilaty said. “It had a great little quote on the bottom about friends. And that’s how these children see these soldiers.” Slilaty gave ideas to the students, including requests from her friends and brother for specific items that would help them. Bandanas to cover faces and eyes from sandstorms, small dust pans and brushes, hard candy and cards were asked for. The first set of care packages was due to be sent April 7.

On March 25 Dr. Salvatore Ruffo, an area dentist who recently returned from the war in Iraq, treated the school to a special presentation. Kathy Fitch, an aide in Virginia Chicuorka’s third grade classroom, is a patient of Dr. Ruffo and heard he was going away last fall. “I heard he was going to the Gulf Region, and I thought that maybe we could get the kids to write to him. So before Christmas we did write to him and he wrote back to us,” said Fitch. ,p> The kids talked about Dr. Ruffo’s visit. One student, third grader John Martin, 8, said the praying rugs from Iraq were one of the “coolest” things from the presentation. Daniel said Dr. Ruffo’s talk was great. “It was really neat because I always wondered what the chemical suits they wore looked like,” Daniel said. “He [Dr. Ruffo] talked about what it was like to be in a war and told us about the stuff he wore and the stuff he ate.” Sister Patricia Coyle, OSF, principal of St. Thomas School, said she was pleased with the participation of the students and how important it is to support the American troops stationed overseas. “The soldiers there are real live, human beings with family and friends, who are members of this community. We need to support them and let them know they are loved,” Sister Patricia said. “Even though we are not in support of the war, we need to support our military men and women in their chosen vocation. We pray every day for the safety of our troops and that peace will be restored.”

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