ELKTON — What started out as one student’s idea to indulge a family member in the military has grown to a collaborative project involving a school district, a community, a military unit and out-of-towners.

The project called Love, U.S. aims to send about 215 care packages to one Elkton high school graduate’s military unit. The project is also looking for other active members of the military from Elkton to send care packages to.

“The project fits in with giving back and showing compassion for people and being able to rally kids around the fact that it’s OK to give and to give back,” said Elkton Charter School Superintendent Andy Boe.

The project began after Elkton High School junior Grace Whitley came up with a plan to send only one care package to her brother-in-law Gordon Leach, an Elkton High School graduate, who’s currently serving in the United States Air Force.

But after learning about living to serve and building community at a national FFA leadership conference in Washington D.C. last summer, Whitley decided to provide care packages for Leach’s entire unit of active military personnel to provide them with kindness from afar in case they don’t have families back home.

“It’s the acknowledgment that people are thinking about them at home,” Whitley said of civilians sending care packages to active members of the military.

So Whitley came up with the Love, U.S. project that would involve her entire school district and the Elkton community.

The project has now grown to include donations from residents living outside her community who are gathering care package supplies through the end of November. People outside the community are also purchasing patriotic T-shirts to raise money for postage fees and additional supply purchases.

Once the care packages are assembled, Whitley will send them to her brother-in-law’s unit in Kuwait and also to other Elkton members of the military by the end of February.

“The goal right now is to get what we can and go from there,” Whitley said.

The care-package supplies are on a wish list that Whitley prepared after researching other organizations that included travel-sized toiletries, snacks and other necessities that military personnel may need.

“The biggest thing we can send them are the paper, pencils and envelopes so they can send letters back home,” Whitley said. Baby wipes and eye drops for irritated eyes were also popular necessities.

Whitley said the first week of the project that began in mid-October raised about 10 bags of donations and saw many people from out of town coming in to drop off donations at the Elkton schools.

To gain monetary donations, the project also sells patriotic T-shirts and sweatshirts. Whitley sold 35 T-shirts after the first week of the project.

“I’ve gotten T-shirt orders from Myrtle Point, Sutherlin and Roseburg,” Whitley said. “The word is getting out there and people are ordering shirts through the mail and sending monetary donations.”

Veterans and active members of the military are significant to Whitley because “they’re the ones who let us live the lives that we’re living,” she said.

Donations can be made at the Elkton grade school or high school offices or a check can be mailed to EHS, PO Box 390 Elkton, OR 97436, Attention: Project Love, U.S. A donation confirmation and a receipt will be mailed back to donors.

Also available now are navy blue T-shirts and crew neck sweatshirts with Love, U.S. and a patriotic heart on the front pocket, along with a U.S. flag and “Remember Those Deployed” on the back.

Clothing sizes available are youth S to XL and adults S to 5X, with T-shirts for $20 and sweatshirts for $25. Add $3 extra for 2X or larger sizes, and send orders to EHS, PO Box 390 Elkton, OR 97436, Attention: Project Love.

Reporter Vera Westbrook can be reached at 541-957-4216 or vwestbrook@nrtoday.com.

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Education and Arts and Entertainment Reporter

Vera Westbrook is the education, nonprofits, and arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at 541-957-4216 or by email at vwestbrook@nrtoday.com.

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