Christmas in a shoebox

December 17, 2007

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

We’ve all heard of Minnesota nice, but how about HLWW nice? That may be what soldiers in Iraq will think upon receiving care packages sent by Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted students Dec. 7.

Ryan Otterness of Winsted, a 2005 graduate of HLWW, is currently serving in Iraq, and was the inspiration for a Christmas care package project conducted by HLWW elementary and middle school students recently.

Otterness was deployed in August and was told he would be on a 15-month tour.

Winsted Elementary student, Noah Otterness, is in fifth grade and is Ryan’s little brother. His class took great interest in the project as well.

HLWW pre-school teacher and adult volunteer/youth service coordinator Pam Henry-Neaton approached Otterness’ girlfriend, Rachael Kittock of Waverly, about a youth service project that the elementary students could provide for Otterness and his platoon for Christmas.

What started out as a project to ship 23 care packages in shoeboxes to Otterness and his platoon turned into the assembly of 100 packages because of a tremendous community outpouring for the project, Henry-Neaton said.

“With the support of the middle school, Winsted and Humphrey elementary school students and their families, and a generous donation from Operation We Care of Winsted, the project grew tremendously,” Henry-Neaton explained.

Items geared towards everyday needs of the soldiers were collected, as well as fun and tasty goodies.

In addition to the donations from students and their families, others who donated were:

• Operation We Care of Winsted,

• Gentle Dental of Winsted – donated toothbrushes and toothpaste,

• Distinctive Dental of Winsted and Howard Lake – donated toothbrushes and toothpaste,

• Waverly Legion Auxiliary – monetary donation for postage and helped pack shoeboxes into mailing boxes, and

• Pete’s Grocery of Waverly – donated bags to wrap the shoeboxes.

The students, themselves, did a lot of organizing before the boxes could be assembled. Winsted students sorted and counted their items. Humphrey pre-schoolers sorted items, kindergartners counted items and made candy bags, and elementary students put together the packages.

“It has been a real team effort,” Henry Neaton said.

“Classes at Humphrey Elementary and Howard Lake Middle School also wrote letters that were included in the shoeboxes,” Henry-Neaton said. “And Humphrey Elementary student council members helped organize items.”

The 100 shoeboxes were packaged into 21 large boxes with the help of Waverly Legion Auxiliary members and shipped that same day.

Otterness is expecting the large mail delivery and will dispense the boxes to his platoon and other platoons.

In addition, Thomas Miller, another HLWW graduate also serving in Iraq, will receive a shoebox, as well as a few other soldiers in the area that the group was given addresses for.

“It was really fun watching the kids assemble the boxes. They were really excited about doing it,” Kittock said.