Andrew Dys

January 30, 2013

Rock Hill elementary students collect breakfast foods to send to troops in Afghanistan

After finding out that area soldiers deployed to Afghanistan sometimes do not get a hot breakfast, the students at Sunset Park Elementary School are collecting breakfast to send to the troops.

Soldiers from Rock Hill deployed in rural eastern Afghanistan are in a war zone. It is below freezing most nights and often snowy.

Not every soldier can’t get waffles for breakfast, so the kids at Sunset Park Center for Accelerated Studies Elementary School decided to deliver.

Sort of.

The waffles aren’t going to be delivered hot, but there will be enough boxed batter – plus Pop-Tarts and all kinds of other breakfast stuff – to feed the 161 area soldiers breakfast and snacks for weeks.

The entire school is in the midst of a breakfast food collection project that started after the kids found out that some forward operating bases in Afghanistan – including the Sharana base where soldiers from the Army National Guard 178th Combat Engineers based in Rock Hill have been for months – don’t always get a hot breakfast.

The use of MREs – Meals Ready to Eat, those pre-packed things eaten in war zones – as breakfasts for soldiers is a byproduct of the reduction of troops and services taking place in Afghanistan.

Sunset Park second-grade teacher Meghan Switzer’s brother-in-law, Sgt. Justin Switzer, is deployed with the 178th. Sgt. Switzer and other soldiers have become pen pals with the students at Sunset Park, so the kids figured they could help.

“The kids really have enjoyed writing letters, but this idea was to help all the soldiers,” Meghan Switzer said. “The students have really been excited about helping.”

The idea started with Switzer’s class but spread to the rest of the second grade, then the entire school. “Breakfast for the Troops” was hatched, then it spread to church groups, York Preparatory Academy and more.

For the past two weeks, kids have brought in boxes of dry mix, loads of granola bars, grits and more.

There is even red velvet pancake mix, hot cocoa mix with reindeer packaging, and all kinds of great things to make a place that gets below zero almost every day less cold.

“They need something more to eat so we just wanted to help them,” said Jordan Miller, 7, a student in Switzer’s class. “They have to eat to stay strong and do the patrols that they do.”

The soldiers of the 178th are tasked with patrolling some of the most dangerous roads on earth. They have bomb-clearance duties. The unit has been in Afghanistan since August and is not expected to return until May.

There is no breakfast crisis or food crisis for area troops, but the soldiers appreciate the kindness and generosity of the kids who want to help, wrote Command Sgt Major Joe Medlin, the top enlisted man in the unit, in an email from Afghanistan.

The school even decided to have a contest to see which grade could bring in the most breakfast stuff to send to the local soldiers in the war zone.

Claire Dannelly, 7, in another second grade class, brought in boxes and boxes of stuff bought in bulk by the ladies of her parents’ church.

“People just want to help the soldiers,” Claire said. “We all want to help them.”

Sunset Park’s school-wide drive ends Friday. The grade that collects the most breakfast food gets a prize.

That prize will be something from the school – but the big honor will be something even greater.

The students will know when soldiers go off to war, that the smallest among us did not forget them.

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