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Soldiers request ND items

Kate Antonacci | Monday, November 6, 2006

For organizers of the Notre Dame Accounting Association’s care package project, it is not the Gatorade mix, sunflower seeds or bandannas that they need the largest stock of – it is “something, anything to do with Notre Dame,” according to senior organizer Rena Zarah.

Though the group collects everything from Christmas CDs and DVDs to beef jerky and ChapStick, it is Notre Dame memorabilia that members of the armed forces serving overseas ask for most frequently.

“We collect names and addresses of soldiers overseas serving our country. These men and women either graduated from Notre Dame, are related or are friends with a Notre Dame student, faculty or staff, or are from the Notre Dame community,” Zarah said. “This is the most rewarding project I personally have ever been involved in.”

The care package project, which began four years ago, started out small, sending “at most 20” packages overseas in its first year, said Zarah, who is organizing the project with junior Liz Byrum. The project has continued to grow each year, sending a record number of 150 packages last fall.

The group is expecting to send fewer packages – about 120 – this year because “there has been a drop in the number of people overseas,” Zarah said. Sixty names have already been collected and Zarah expects that number to increase as the deadline approaches. All the packages should be put together and shipped overseas the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

While the number of packages has decreased, the number of supporters has done just the opposite.

“I think it’s definitely become a more school-wide project rather than just the Notre Dame Accounting Association project,” Zarah said.

After sending an e-mail to the campus community, Zarah said her inbox was “flooded” with more than 200 messages from people who want to help out or donate.

“Everyone is really supportive of it,” she said.

Some are from those asking for packages to be sent to a particular soldier – “he has a wife and with their first child on the way at home,” one e-mail read – and others from those asking what they can do to help.

“I’m an ND [Alliance for Catholic Education] teacher in Baton Rouge, Louisiana,” read one e-mail. “I was wondering if it would be possible to have my students (10th-11th grade) write letters to the troops to be included in packages … I think that this would be an excellent service-learning project for them.”

But help is not coming just from Notre Dame graduates; the greater South Bend community has heard about the Accounting Association’s project, and many people have expressed interest.

“A local elementary school is having the students write letters to put in the boxes,” Zarah said.

Local businesses like CVS Pharmacy on Ironwood and Meijer have donated to the cause, Zarah said.

“ND Food Services and The Shirt also give us a large amount of items,” she said.

Zarah said that sending such letters and packages is the “least we can do to demonstrate our gratitude.”

Every item in the packages is donated, she said.

Though the process for sending the boxes is complicated – every single item in the box needs to be listed on detailed customs forms – Zarah said she receives a lot of help and discounts from UPS, who sends out the packages.

For the next two weeks beginning today, the Association will collect donations in the lobby of the Mendoza College of Business from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Zarah said monetary donations may also be given to cover the costs of shipping and purchasing items for the packages.

Other items needed for packages include: letters, non-crushable snacks, Christmas lights, decorations, cookies, microwave popcorn, copies of campus publications, magazines, sunscreen, candy, baby wipes and eye drops.

“It is important to let these men and women know that they are in our hearts and prayers, especially through the holiday season,” Zarah said.