Zon McEnerney, 7, lugged a large box containing packages of dehydrated noodles yesterday afternoon at the Boys and Girls Club in Kenai. McEnerney's Spiderman T-shirt hung loosely from his shoulders as he worked, but the real superhero was not pictured on his clothing.
McEnerney was one of 16 youth volunteers helping out with the fourth annual Boxes For Heroes program. This year marked the program's second year in Kenai.
Started by Navy veteran and former director of fundraising for the Alaska Veterans Foundation Frank Roach, Boxes for Heroes disperses care packages to Alaska's troops stationed away from home during the holiday season. The AVF supports the program.
Gift packages contain items like the dehydrated noodles that McEnerney carried as well as nuts, beef jerky, trail mix, cheese crackers, granola bars, eye drops, cotton swabs, lip balm, foot powder, pens, pencils and envelopes, just to name a few.
Roach said Boxes for Heroes gives troops a little taste of home when they need it most.
"It lets them know that they aren't fighting for nothing," Roach said. "It's reaching out to the guys and gals fighting for freedom, securing our freedom."
Roach said he got the idea for the program in 2006 after sending his nephew, Sgt. David Kuzmar, who was serving in Iraq at the time, a box of bathroom supplies and other goodies. After receiving the package, Kuzmar wrote his uncle back not only thanking him for the package, but saying his fellow troops would appreciate similar gift bags. Thus, the idea of Boxes for Heroes was assembled.
Roach coordinates drives for items in Kenai and Wasilla every year. He said Three Bears in Kenai has been especially helpful, allowing him to stand outside the store asking customers to donate whatever items they could.
The items are then packaged and sent to our troops.
As of last year, Roach said Boxes for Heroes had sent out approximately 4,800 packages in total, and he anticipates sending out 400 more this year just from Kenai. That doesn't include the 1,500 packages assembled in Wasilla earlier this month.
Roach said the program would not be possible in Kenai without the help of the Boys and Girls Club volunteers.
"Frank Roach contacted us last year and said he needed a place to store the stuff and to get kids involved," said Boys and Girls Club director Kim Dent.
Keyshawn McEnerney, 10, may have been on trash duty yesterday, but he didn't seem to mind.
"I want to help them because they deserve it," he said of our troops.
Jen Moore, who was helping to organize some of the youth volunteers, said the troops need to feel support during the holidays.
"It's nice to let them know that we haven't forgotten," Moore said, organizing cans of shaving cream. "It's to show support and let them know that they are not alone."
Aaron Babba, 11, felt like he owes it to the men and women serving overseas.
"I think we need to pay them back for what they have done for our country," he said, trash bag in hand.
As things wrapped up yesterday evening, everyone needed to help put some of the items into a closet to store overnight. Today the volunteers will take all of the items out of the closet and spread them onto a long cafeteria table in the gym. They will form an assembly line in which everyone will be responsible for putting an item into a care package to be sent to soldiers overseas.
As the volunteers packed up for the night, Susan McLaury had some advice for the kids filling boxes with baby wipes and beef jerky.
"Put it in to where you can get the most in there," she said.
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