LAURINBURG — The St. Andrews University equestrian team assembled gift boxes to make the holidays brighter for troops serving abroad.
Students collected and assembled 121 gift boxes as they participated in the Fill the Footlockers program which delivers the festive packages to the members of the United States armed forces who are serving in active combat zones.
Carla Wennberg, the coach of the IHSA Western team at St. Andrews, said the project was something that the students really wanted to participate in. This is the third year the team has done this particular public service project.
“It was a no-brainer to do this since we’re so close to Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base,” said Wennberg. “So many students have ties with military and some of my students now and in the past are veterans. I feel strongly about giving back to them. Our personal notes and the thoughtfulness of these equestrian students has been amazing! We all feel it necessary to say thank you. It was my Christmas the other night to see SO many students do this from their heart.”
Wennberg learned about the Fill the Footlockers program through her mother Nancy whose neighbor, Bill Carl — a veteran himself, told her about the project.
The gift boxes were delivered to the Veterans Hall in Southern Pines and are being shipped overseas from Fort Bragg. Each package contains 12 items, including toiletries, sun block, candy, snacks, gum, DVDs, batteries, and personal letters from students.
Military Missions in Action, the organization responsible for the Fill the Footlockers program, was started in 2008 by North Carolina native Mike Dorman, a retired member of the United States Coast Guard.
Dorman started Military Missions in Action in January 2008 and has devoted his life to helping veterans with disabilities achieve independent living as well as supporting men and women serving in combat areas and their families.
“I also wanted to honor our fallen heroes like my grandfather and support our men and women currently serving in the armed forces,” Dorman said. “It does not matter whether you are young or old, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat; it is our duty and responsibility to support those who sacrificed so much for our freedom.”
Some of St. Andrews students that helped assemble the boxes actually have family or loved ones who have served or are currently serving in the military, which made the project extra special.
Sophomore Baylee Masslofsky’s father retired from the Navy in 2013 after a career as a pilot.
“I do it every year. It’s what I grew up doing. It’s like sending gifts to family,” Masslofsky said.
Seniors Zoe Cluck and Philip Alden both have people in their lives who are currently stationed overseas. Cluck’s boyfriend, Cole, is deployed in Afghanistan, and Alden has 20 friends who are stationed all over the world.
“It means a lot to me that so many people are stepping up to send boxes. I know how much it means to Cole and to others who are deployed,” Cluck said.
“I want them to have as good a Christmas as we will have,” Alden said. “I hope the gifts put smiles on their faces.”
The students won’t get to see the soldiers open the boxes they are sending, but they hope it lets the service members know people back home are thinking of them.
“Even though they don’t know us in person, they know that we’re thinking of them and care about them,” said senior Mackenzie Parks. “I’ve never seen so many people come together and do something. It makes me happy inside.”
The Fill the Footlocker program is actually a two-part program. The first supports active-duty service members and military working dogs serving in combat zones and the second supports homeless veterans across the state.
Military Missions in Action also has several other programs that assist military members and their families including Operation Building Hope, Homes for Healing, Military Child Access Assistance Program (MCAAP), Operation Warrior Golf and We Will Never Forget.
Donations for Fill the Footlockers are collected year round, and those interested in donating can drop off items at Military Missions in Actions two locations:
411-B North Judd Parkway, NE
Fuquay-Varina NC 27526
Southern Pines Office
625 South Page Street
Southern Pines NC 28387
People can call either office 919-552-1603 for Fuquay-Varina or 910-603-5999 for Southern Pines and Military Missions for Action can arrange for pick up or shipping of donated items.
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.