The CAN DO Student Action Committee delivered a collection of more than 100 boxes containing thousands of items to the American Legion Post 473 in Freeland Thursday as part of the 12th annual Operation: CAN DO drive.
The collected food, entertainment and personal hygiene items will be used to create care packages that will be delivered to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving abroad who have ties to Greater Hazleton. Numerous school groups, businesses and individuals from throughout Greater Hazleton participated in the collection of the items.
Nancy Stasko, Student Action Committee co-adviser, said this was the largest collection in the history of the Operation: CAN DO drive and urged community members to share the names and contact information of any military members with ties to Greater Hazleton.
Stasko said, “The Operation: CAN DO drive has come full circle. This year we’re sending a care package to a former Student Action Committee member who is serving in the Navy and is stationed on the USS Mason in the Middle East.”
Student Action Committee co-adviser Charlie Burkhardt said that Operation: CAN DO came to fruition 12 years ago as an idea that was mentioned by one of the students during a Student Action Committee meeting.
“It was the Student Action Committee’s idea to start this project. Part of their mission was to find something to do to help the community. We started by reaching out to the schools for donations and it branched out over the years to include businesses and the community. This year was the most participation in the project that we’ve had from the Student Action Committee. It was great to see the students serving their community.”
CAN DO has partnered with the Freeland American Legion since the drive’s inception. The American Legion manages the shipping of the items to the soldiers abroad. Members of the Student Action Committee once again expressed their gratitude on Thursday to Commander Gerald Gaffney and other members of the Freeland American Legion in recognition of their continued assistance with the program and their dedication to the men and women of the United States military.
Operation: CAN DO co-chairs Corrin Dagostin, of Marian High School, and Dominic Yannuzzi, of the Hazleton Area Academy of Sciences, both said they were honored to be able to participate in the project and give back to the military members who do so much for our country.
“Giving back to the military members is very important. They help us so much so we should give back to them,” Dagostin said. “I got Marian High School involved in a collection drive and we even had a competition among the grades to collect the most items. As we were collecting things, I see all these basic items that we take for granted but are actually a luxury for the military members. I’m humbled by it. This was a good experience for the new Student Action Committee members and a bonding and leadership experience for the returning Student Action Committee members.”
Yannuzzi said, “This drive shows our troops that we respect them and want to give back. It’s a token of our gratitude to them. We’re grateful for what they do. Through this project, I learned to take responsibility by getting out to the schools to promote this and organizing this project. It was a good group effort among the Student Action Committee members to promote this drive. The troops really need these items. It makes you think of everything they don’t have.”
Freeland American Legion Post 473 Commander Gerald Gaffney said he couldn’t say enough about the dedication and commitment that the Student Action Committee members showed to the drive and said this recognition is something that veterans didn’t have during his time in the military.
“I can’t say enough about the students thinking of our veterans today. I’m glad that people realize what our military members do for our country. Every year this drive gets bigger and bigger. We’ve had many military members over the years write letters to the students or send letters here expressing their thanks for the care packages. I hear many military members say it’s so great to get something from home. Some of the military members will share items from the care packages with the kids they meet while serving in the foreign countries who don’t have anything.”
CAN DO President Kevin O’Donnell said, “This annual Operation: CAN DO drive would not be possible without the partnership we have with the Freeland American Legion. On behalf of CAN DO, I’d also like to express our gratitude to everyone who organized a collection or made a monetary donation to help us honor our military members.”
Businesses and schools who made donations are: Altadis USA, Arc Electric, Arthur Street Elementary School, Bimbo Bakeries, Bradley Caldwell, Drums Elementary/Middle School, Fabri-Kal Corp., First Quality Nonwovens, Freeland Elementary/Middle School, GDK Development, Gottstein Contracting, Hansen Technologies, Hazle Township Early Learning Center, Hazleton Area Academy of Sciences, Heritage Hill Senior Community, Immanuel Christian School, Kubishin & Ator, Laurels Senior Living Community, Lehigh Tire, Luzerne County employees, Marian High School, Maple Manor Elementary/Middle School, McAdoo-Kelayres Elementary/Middle School, Mid Penn Bank, MMI Preparatory School, Northeast PA Manufacturers and Employers Association, Pennsylvania Monument Co., Prism Response, Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 44, Steelcase, Silgan Closures, Simmons, Tootsie Roll Industries, Valley Elementary/Middle School, Valmont Industries and West Hazleton Elementary/Middle School.
The Student Action Committee is made up of local high school students appointed to serve as members of CAN DO’s board of directors. Members of this year’s committee are Dominic Yannuzzi and Michael Kulish, from Hazleton Area Academy of Sciences; Lauren Pataki, Jerry Gasser, Mark Abdelmalek and Alexandra Rentz from Hazleton Area High School; Pemely Guzman and Christopher Danishefsky, from Immanuel Christian School; Jenna O’Donnell and Corrin Dagostin, from Marian High School; Kayla Leonard, Joshua Narrow, Zach Gera and Jakob Schwabe, from MMI Preparatory School; and Samantha DeSpirito and Jillian Bartel, from Weatherly Area High School.
The CAN DO Student Action Committee helps coordinate several programs and events in the community. One of those events is the annual CAN DO Community Christmas, which will be held Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church in downtown Hazleton.