4-H club service project aids overseas troops, food bank

Mary Pickels
| Monday, June 20, 2011

Those who equate 4-H solely with animals and farming should expand their line of thinking, according to Rachel Sheffler.

Think patriotism, she said. Community service. Leadership.

Sheffler, 17, is president of the Westmoreland County 4-H Club Hoofbeats, a competitive horseback riding group.

As part of a community service requirement, the club's 24 members in January began to collect items for the Westmoreland County Food Bank and for the military.

Members decided to tackle two projects at once, said Sheffler, of Salem Township.

"This year, we wanted to go above and beyond our bare minimum," she said.

The military effort has snowballed, said Debbie Sheffler, Hoofbeats' organizational leader.

"The kids are really gung ho," she said.

The club is supplying care packages for soldiers in the field who do not have access to well-stocked bases. Members recently packed 24 boxes of 600 items they collected or donated for service members.

The Dollar Tree in Delmont is aiding the effort by posting signs inviting shoppers to contribute to the care packages.

Bushy Run American Legion Auxiliary Unit 260 is helping to pay the shipping costs to send supplies for distribution in remote outposts.

"It hits home for me," said Abby Burkardt, 16, club vice president. Her brother, Alexander Burkardt, 22, soon will be deployed to Norfolk, Va., where he will ship out aboard the USS Porter.

"We know lots of people in the military. You can never give them enough," said Burkardt, of Harrison City.

"Their life there is different from what we have. Here, we have everything. There, they barely have soap," she said. "We want to show them that everywhere is not a war zone. Back here is still how they left it."

"Knowing that you are making their day that much nicer, it opens your eyes to their sacrifices," Rachel Sheffler said. "Even if it does not go to our personal family, our personal friends, knowing it goes to someone who appreciates it makes it that much better."

Personal hygiene items, snacks, crossword puzzles and playing cards are popular.

"They do have down time. We've sent yo-yos, Frisbees. A lot of these soldiers are kids themselves," said Candy Jones, auxiliary president.

The unit recently sent a shipment of Girl Scout cookies to a female soldier from the area who is stationed with a medevac unit.

"They fly injured soldiers out of harm's way. She was absolutely delighted to get the cookies," Jones said.

Erica Loughner, a Hoofbeats leader, already is planning care packages for her son. Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas Loughner will deploy overseas in July.

Loughner contacted Jones, her neighbor, for advice on shipping the 4-H members' packages.

"They (auxiliary) said it was their donation," Loughner said.

"I said you are doing the work, collecting the items. We appreciate the fact that the kids are doing this. It's so great to get young people involved in doing projects for the military. You don't need to be paying postage," Jones said.

The auxiliary has contacts in Afghanistan and Iraq to whom they forward packages.

"I would like the kids to write a couple of letters and send some pictures (in the next shipment). It might boost their (soldiers) morale," Debbie Sheffler said.

She's also soliciting donations for the packages and postage costs.

"It would be great if we had some extra support," she said.

To donate to the project, contact Sheffler at 724-668-0017.

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