Article & Photos by Jacqueline Bennett newsandviewsjb

“Dear Soldier…” It is a greeting that pulls at the heart-strings sent in cards and letters with “love” from Loomis Chaffee students who packed holiday care boxes this week for American troops deployed to the war in Afghanistan. Ranging in age from 14 to 17, these socially conscious and caring young people want the troops to know, they may be out of sight but they are never out of mind.

“I don’t think our soldiers get enough credit, we want to spread awareness,” 16-year-old Allison Byrne of West Hartford, said November 30 during the packing on campus at the private secondary school in Windsor, Connecticut.”We want the soldiers to know we actually care and to show our gratitude.”

Working in conjunction with “Send Hometown Windsor to the Troops,” or “SEND,” a WIN-TV community service effort coordinated by Ann Walsh, members of the Loomis Chaffee club “Operation Soldier Relief,” filled multiple boxes for three of the nearly two dozen deployed Windsor soldiers, including Nicholas Cangemi-who was an assistant baseball coach at the school and worked in the physical plant, as well as, Kory Ferris, and, their adopted soldier, Dan Nolan.

“This is the second year we have been involved in this project,” said Roseanne Lombardo, faculty advisor.

Besides raising and donating money to buy items for the boxes, the students held an ice cream social and invited the student body to write cards to soldiers in exchange for ice cream. Byrne’s mother, Nancy Byrne, also decorated holiday stockings to send in the care boxes, as did children from Oliver Ellsworth School, a Windsor elementary school which participates in a Loomis Chaffee tutoring program.

“Half the time they spend tutoring and with homework assistance and the other half on enrichment activities. The stockings were an enrichment activity,” Lombardo explained.

It is not just during the Christmas and Hanukah seasons that these Loomis Chaffee students think about the troops. Each month of the academic year, they gather to pack care boxes sent with personalized messages, sometimes original stories, and necessities and goodies they buy with funds they raise and donate.

“In addition to the boxes with Ann, we work with a great gentleman in Glastonbury, Frank Forrest, commander of the V.F.W. there,” said Lombardo, “It is an opportunity to engage with other communities, look at the bigger picture, see what other communities are doing to help the troops and where we fit in.”

“These are some terrific kids,” Walsh said about the students.

According to Walsh, who came to help pack, so far for the holidays through “SEND,” she has mailed out five boxes to each Windsor soldier in Afghanistan.

“Every soldier received a Nativity scene, Christmas Tree and lights. And, everything was wrapped,” said Walsh, known affectionately as “Mom” to the troops.

Loomis Chaffee students taking part on Wednesday were Allison Byrne, Mike Horowicz, Tate Unight, Conor Byrne, Penelope Shaw, Charles Kenney and Jordan Niezelski.

Said Lombardo, “This project is dear to our hearts.”

Ann Walsh with Loomis Chaffee students