What started as a family project evolved into a Washington Middle School campaign spearheaded by a 13-year-old Brainerd girl to collect items for soldiers in Iraq.
Carol and Gordie Klabo, Brainerd, recently received a call from Carol's cousin, whose son, Capt. David Almquist is stationed out of Fort Hood, Texas.
Almquist, who is an Apache Longbow pilot in the Army, is still at Fort Hood training soldiers but many of the soldiers he commanded last year have been deployed to Iraq.
He spoke with one of them in Iraq and asked what he could do to help them out. He made a list of supplies that the soldiers said they needed -- and wanted -- and sent 10 boxes at his own expense to the troops three weeks ago.
Almquist also asked his mom if she could help. She then called the Klabos, giving them a list of names and addresses of 227 soldiers from Fort Hood.
The Klabos planned to send a shipment, along with letters, to the individual soldiers. But their daughter, Jenny, had bigger plans. Jenny, a seventh-grader at Washington Middle School, approached her teacher Tom Sanford about starting a collection drive at school. He thought it was a good idea. The seventh-grader also got permission from school administration.
Klabo and her friends, Antje Anderson and Katie Gessell, put up posters in the school, requesting donations, like Kool-Aid, hot chocolate, batteries, candy, envelopes, toilet paper and baby wipes.
The girls called their collection drive, "Wipe Out Saddam," since they were collecting the baby wipes for soldiers to use to clean the sand off of themselves. They also requested donations for postage so the items could be mailed.
The collection drive ended today. The girls collected 244 letters that students wrote to the soldiers and baggies full of change that students brought in for postage. The Builders Club at school also planned to donate money for postage. The teens collected so many items that the drive all but took over a large closet with ceiling high shelves in a science classroom.
Many students brought in many rolls of toilet paper for the troops. Jenny's cousin e-mailed her and told her how the troops are allowed only four squares of toilet paper three times a day. Carol Klabo said Almquist has served in Kosovo and other remote places and understands what it's like for the soldiers not to have these things. It seemed as if the students could relate, as well.
Originally from Kansas, Almquist spent most summers on Ottertail Lake near Fergus Falls.
Carol Klabo said she was amazed that the students were so passionate about helping soldiers they didn't know and would never meet.
"It's very overwhelming that they did all that," said Klabo. "They did a very good job. I think there's a lot of support among those kids, as young as they are. I think they understand what's going on."
"I'm doing this because I care about the troops," said Jenny Klabo.
"Our teachers have been very supportive of us," said Anderson.
Carol Klabo said she's proud of her daughter, who took the initiative to start the collection drive. She's hoping to mail the items to the soldiers next week.
"I was surprised she did as much as she did," said Klabo, of her daughter. "But she is a real compassionate little girl. I think it was a good experience for them to do this."
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