President Bush stopped in Carroll County yesterday to visit what he called "a warehouse full of love and decency" and to see off a shipment of clothing and relief supplies to Afghanistan meant to help children survive the looming winter.
At the Brethren Service Center, a consortium of nonprofit relief agencies in New Windsor, Bush was surrounded by boxes stacked ceiling-high and containing everything from candy to wool socks. The supplies were paid for with $1 donations from youngsters around the United States under a program Bush began in October.
The president said the shipments would give Afghan children "something to smile about because America's children are generous and kind and compassionate." Bush called the supplies "a reminder that we are at war with the Taliban regime, not with the good, innocent people of Afghanistan."
Since Bush announced the program as a way for American children to participate in the war effort, $1.5 million has come by mail to the White House from around the country.
The amount would probably be higher, aides have said, were it not for the anthrax scare, which shut off mail service to the White House for weeks.
The president spent 48 minutes in New Windsor before continuing to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Frederick County.
For Bush, the stop was another in a series of visits made in Maryland either on the way to or on the way back from Camp David. Aides said such trips offer the president a convenient way to reach out to ordinary Americans without having to travel far out of the way.
And this community of 1,300 people - an idyllic town of narrow streets that is surrounded by farmland and is awash in holiday decorations - exuberantly welcomed its first visit from a president.
Hundreds of residents braved a chilly rain to stand on the roadside as Bush arrived by motorcade at the event, which was closed to the general public.
People were still outside cheering wildly when Bush's motorcade passed in the other direction, back to New Windsor Middle School, where his Marine helicopter landed and took off.
Nothing so exciting has happened here, some residents said, since actress Julia Roberts paid a visit several years ago to film scenes for Runaway Bride.
"We have a movie filmed here and now a president," Debra Hoffman said. "You would just never think of all that in a little town in Carroll County."
Hoffman's 7-year-old son, Kagan, a second-grader at nearby Elmer Wolfe Elementary School, donated $1 to Bush's Afghan children's fund and was invited with his Cub Scout troop by the White House to attend Bush's visit. Kagan's mother called the event "good PR, so we can show that we're not just going in and bombing them in Afghanistan."
The president commended children in New Windsor and around the nation for their donations, adding that he had heard about children who organized bake sales, lemonade stands or fund-raising drives at their schools to come up with money.
Bush said he knows "there are empty piggy banks" around the country.
He added: "We are a truly compassionate nation. We are a nation of heart, a nation of decency and a nation that loves freedom."
Throughout Bush's remarks, children chattered, appearing uncontrollably excited about seeing him. Nine-year-old Trevor Hoff said he awoke at 5 a.m. to get ready for his trip to see the president.
A memory for lifetime
"I am going to remember this my whole life," Trevor said, "and talk about it in school on Monday."
The first of the aid shipments is expected to leave Washington Dulles International Airport today, going first to Germany, then to Turkmenistan, before being trucked into northern Afghanistan. The shipment includes 1,500 tents, 1,685 winter coats and 10,000 relief packages -arrays of items such as crayons, socks and candy.
The 55-year-old Brethren center has made its home, New Windsor, familiar to international relief specialists nationwide who have called here for help in responding to everything from devastating floods in Texas to medical emergencies in Congo.
The center is owned by the general board of the Church of the Brethren, a nationwide denomination that often focuses on promoting world peace. In October the church called for the United States to halt its military campaign in Afghanistan.
"Peace and security will not be found through military, economic, and political reprisal, or in the drastic curtailment of civil liberties in the United States," the statement said. "These avenues may satisfy the desire for retaliation and the appearance of greater security, but in the long term they can neither change the conditions that give rise to terrorist impulses nor eradicate the threat of terrorist attack."
Some international relief agencies have faced enormous challenges getting food and supplies into the refugee camps of northern Afghanistan. Because of poor roads and inadequate security, supplies meant for Afghan civilians have sometimes built up in neighboring countries such as Uzbekistan, unable to go any further.