It all started with... a State Department blog. Seriously.
There was a State Department blog out there whose sidebars I was mining back when I started the Weekly RoundUp. Since I'm on my Dad's computer, and not on my own computer, I don't have any of my State Department blog links... so I can't find (and then show you) which blog it was right now, unfortunately...
...But that's how we found Chaplain Darren. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Up until we found Chaplain Darren, Matthew had been hoping to do an Eagle Scout project that benefited US military Troops somehow. That's his passion, since for the last five or six years Matthew has been hoping to get into the Air Force Academy or the Naval Academy after high school (so that he can get a flight slot). Also, James was in both the Coast Guard and the Army, so we're a family of militaryphiles. And since Boy Scouts get to choose everything about their Eagle Project, Matthew had long ago wanted his Eagle Project to benefit members of the US military.
Before finding Chaplain Darren (a Chaplain in the US Army who is currently serving troops in Afghanistan), Matthew had resigned himself to partnering with a large group such as the Adopt a Platoon folks. And while partnering with a large group would have certainly been a wonderful option, he'd always hoped to have his Eagle Project be a bit more... personal. To know where his items were going and who received them on the other side.
So when we found Chaplain Darren, we were thrilled. We contacted him and he graciously helped us connect with a Chaplain (I'll call him Chaplain Y) who would be in Afghanistan long enough for an Eagle Project to be able to be completed (for Chaplain Darren is soon to return home).
Chaplain Y was very kind and agreed to work with Matthew on his Eagle Project, which became a project of sending care package items and notes of encouragement over to soldiers in combat who are under Chaplain Y's care.
Chaplain Y explained the following about the soldiers targeted for Matthew's Eagle Project:
Imagine yourself in an area roughly the size of a football field. You are surrounded by walls made out of sandbags. There are no trees and no grass... just dirt and gravel. There are no buildings... only guard towers. There is no running water or plumbing of any kind. Any electricity is only for tactical use. There is no shade, and there are no buildings but guard towers. There is no kitchen and there are no restrooms...although they did receive a few port-a-johns recently. There are no telephones, and there is no internet.
Soldiers arrive with only what they can carry on their backs. They work very long hours. In these conditions, every letter, card, or care package is precious. To get a personal note or gift feels much like Christmas morning did when you were eight years old. Anything you do will be appreciated and will make an impact. Soldiers keep handwritten letters from people they have never met. In the midst of their uncomfortable situations, it just feels good when someone says Thank You.
We had initially partnered with our phenomenal Church back in Texas (Grace Presbyterian Church) in order to complete the project, but that whole plan fell through in the blink of a Chengdu, China, NOW bid eye. When we were given less than a few hours to leave Houston to get to Washington DC to begin James' training for Chengdu, we left Houston so quickly that we inadvertently left behind all of Matthew's Boy Scout things... including his uniform, merit badge sash, and Order of the Arrow sash.
Matthew's Eagle Project had to be re-started with another group of folks... but who? We didn't know anyone well enough in Washington DC, and this summer was our only chance to get his project done. So we turned to our hometown Church (Oviedo Presbyterian Church) in Oviedo, Florida, which is where we lived before the State Department hired James. They are also the Church that sponsors our Boy Scout Troop, Troop 672.
And did I mention that James, Matthew and I helped to start this Troop a few years ago...and that James was its first Scoutmaster? So it was good to come back here to complete Matthew's Eagle Scout journey. Matthew, Zachary and I flew down here to Florida about 10 days ago so that Matthew could complete his Eagle Scout project.
They day before we left DC to fly down to Florida, we bought Matthew and Zachary brand new Boy Scout uniforms. Since theirs are - ahem - sitting in their drawers in Texas!
Oviedo Presbyterian Church graciously allowed Matthew time during its Sunday morning service to describe his Eagle Project (sending care package items to the Troops in Afghanistan through Chaplain Y) to the congregation and ask for their assistance. He wrote out a speech and had a supporting PowerPoint presentation on the screen behind him:
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After the service, Matthew and two other Scouts staffed a table in the back of the Church. There were blank notecards for people to use to write letters or notes of encouragement to the Troops. There was a basket for cash donations.
One of the other Scouts at the table was... duh... Zachary:
Church members FLOODED Matthew's table after the service.
See all these grownups? They're all writing notes to the soldiers, and there are tons of other folks sitting and standing outside the camera's view who are writing, also:
That Sunday morning, Matthew received more than 45 notes to include with the care package items, and $278 in cash donations!
Between the Church donations and other donations from family, friends and other sources, Matthew's project received $619.15.
That's a LOT of baby wipes!
So Matthew went out and purchased the list of items that Chaplain Y had suggested. Between those purchased items and the donations of items he received, Matthew's full list of donated/purchased care package items to the soldiers was as follows:
100 personal sized bottles of shampoo/body wash
50 packages baby wipes (80 wipes per package)
72 greeting cards/letters/notes of encouragement
56 boxes snack crackers
51 packages honey roasted peanut snacks
25 paperback books
10 packages sunflower snacks
5 packages peanut snacks
2 extra large jugs of baby wipes
8 packages baby wipes (85 wipes per package)
7 packages eyeglass cleaner wipes (it's a dusty world out there)
14 bottles of hand sanitizer
3 bottles of sunscreen
This past Sunday evening, members of the Church and the Troop gathered together to lay out all of the donations onto tables and pack them into boxes to be shipped:
(And this didn't even include the KLENZ "shower in a towel" boxes that we ordered online and that are being sent directly to the Troops!)
Monday morning, Matthew and I hit the Post Office with his 19 boxes. There we were very grateful that we had previously been advised not to fully seal the boxes, for we learned that EACH BOX HAD TO HAVE A DETAILED CUSTOMS FORM FILLED OUT FOR IT. And so, each box needed a full list of the items that were inside of it! Needless to say, we were at the Post Office a REALLY long time!
(Just kidding- the postal guy was actually really, really nice and he really, really liked Matthew's project. In fact, we created quite a sensation there at the little Post Office!)
In fact, the Postal Guy even had this totally nifty Mandarin Chinese set of characters tattooed on his arm. He says it means "big brother" in Mandarin. I can't wait to show this picture to our FSI tutor and ask for the direct translation!
After the boxes were shipped out, Matthew and I mistakenly believed that his project was done.
For the next day (Tuesday evening), we received THREE MORE BOXES' WORTH of donations!! So another trip to the Post Office was in order on Wednesday morning!
All in all, Matthew sent out 22 boxes of care package items and notes to the Troops via kind Chaplain Y, who will facilitate their distribution...and that's not EVEN counting however many boxes are being sent full of KLENZ "shower in a towel" packages.
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With his project done, Matthew appeared before his Board of Review last night in order to be... I don't know how else to put it... interviewed for the rank of Eagle. These folks knew of our circumstances (we're flying back to Washington DC today), and all of them worked incredibly hard to make sure that Matthew was able to sit for the Board (interview) before we left.
He passed the Board examination/interview last night, and was declared Central Florida Council's newest Eagle Scout!
We are so deeply grateful to everyone who helped Matthew achieve this goal. From various selfless letter-of-recommendation writers who rushed to get their letters out immediately (Matthew can't appear before the Eagle Board without having lots of letters of recommendation) to the Churches involved and the Troop that we love and very much miss... we thank you all.
Chaplain Darren... Chaplain Y... everyone who donated (time/money/items) toward this project... both Churches' leadership... the Session of Oviedo Presbyterian Church... the leadership/members/Scouts of Troop 672... the adults/leaders who selflessly served (at the very last minute) on Matthew's Board of Review... our family and friends both here and scattered about...
...Matthew wouldn't be an Eagle Scout today had it not been for each and every one of you. Thank you so very, very much for everything.
(And if anyone figures out before I do which State Department blog directed us to Chaplain Darren, could you please let me know? We owe them a huge thank you as well!)