Westminster High students collect supplies for Iraq

School items sought

drive set to end tomorrow

July 01, 2004|By Jessie Parker | Jessie Parker,SUN STAFF

Westminster High students are collecting school supplies and donations as part of Operation Iraqi Children, a national program created to help pupils in Iraq.

The students will hold their last collection day at the Wal-Mart in Westminster from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow. They have raised about $800 and have solicited more than $1,000 worth of supplies.

Social studies teacher Ralph Schewell introduced the idea after reading about the program online, said John Seaman, Westminster High principal.

"Ralph got the Student Senate involved," Seaman said. Then "the Student Senate and general students who were interested ran with it."

After the Student Senate approved the idea of collecting items in school, students began the project May 1. They planned two Wal-Mart collection days, approached local businesses about donating money or putting out jars for donations, and held contests at school.

In one contest, members of the Student Senate went to homerooms and collected money, raising about $150. Another contest was held among the homerooms to see which one could bring in the most supplies.

"At first it was kind of rough, not many people were bringing stuff in," said Mindy Martz, a rising junior at Westminster High and one of about a dozen students leading the project. "We were trying to get them going, talking over the announcements and everything, but I guess we just had to give them time."

"One student was like `Why would we want to help the students in Iraq when we have so many problems in Baltimore?'" Martz said. "Some business owners were like, `Why would I want to help the children of Iraq? They're at war with us.'"

Martz decided to get involved when she heard Schewell's announcement at school and her mother told her about seeing Operation Iraqi Children featured on a television news show.

"It really touched me," Martz said. "I was like, wow, I have to help out with this."

Operation Iraqi Children collects donations and school supplies that are assembled in kits and sent to students in Iraq.

Actor Gary Sinise, who portrayed Lieutenant Dan in the movie Forrest Gump, started the program after seeing the state of schools when he toured Iraq with the United Service Organization. Author Laura Hillenbrand became involved when a soldier told her Iraqi schoolgirls wanted to read her best seller, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, in Arabic.

"[Sinise] saw this amazing need and wanted to do something about it because he is very pro-soldier," said Mary Beth Eastwood, director of information for People to People International, a nonprofit organization involved with the program. "What we're trying to do is foster good relations between the soldiers and the people of Iraq."

Sinise and Hillenbrand launched the program March 15 on NBC's Today show.

About 2,000 shipments of school supply kits, plus 2,000 additional items, have been sent overseas, and the program is preparing about 1,200 kits a week. They are distributed in Iraq by U.S. soldiers, who request supplies for schools in their districts.

"We've barely scratched the surface," Eastwood said. "The program is still in its infancy and we're doing the best we can."

Each kit includes a pair of blunt-end scissors, a ruler, 12 new pencils with erasers, a small pencil sharpener, a large eraser, a glue stick, a box of colored pencils, a package of notebook paper, a composition book, three folders with inside pockets, a zippered pencil bag and a small stuffed animal or toy. Each kit costs $12.

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