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RC students show they care
128 packages going to soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan
Kelley Engel, with paper and pencil in hand, pauses for a moment to think what else she needs to include on her list as her project partner Emma Cormier grabs items to put in their care package for American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
RIPON – Matt Rhodes and Dominic Darretta carefully and methodically arranged the personal-sized tubes of toothpaste, lotions, shaving creams, tooth brushes, and other goodies inside the Priority Mail Postal Service box.

They made sure every space inside the roughly 12”x8”x6” postal box was used to the maximum. The rest of their classmates, nearly 50 of them, were doing the same thing.

“If it fits, it ships. That’s what they say,” a smiling volunteer parent, Luis Rhodes, said quoting the postal service’s advertising mantra as he worked side by side with the students.

The 128 “care packages” that the Ripon Christian fifth graders put together Friday at the Almond Valley Christian Reformed Church were all destined for American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was all part of the annual Spiritual Emphasis Week program that has become a tradition for all the K-12 classes at Ripon Christian School.

Each class chooses its own Spiritual Emphasis project. The fifth graders elected to send the gift boxes to American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“It’s really cool and it’s fun, and it’s going to be a blessing for the soldiers,” Kelly Engel said about the corporal work of mercy that she and her classmates were doing.

“They don’t get this stuff overseas, so it’ll be a blessing for them,” was the rejoinder from her classmate Emma Cormier.

“It’s just great for the kids to give back to the soldiers that are serving our country. This is a great project,” said parent Tammy Aimone as her son, Joshua, and classmate Clinton Kramer packed a load of necessities and goodies inside one of the mailing boxes.

Some of the students, like Dustyn Tuhy, even took the time to scribble a letter for the soldiers which were packed along with the goodies.

This is not something that the students have to do and get graded for it, explained Nancy Vander Veen whose own children attended Ripon Christian but are now all grown. She still continues to volunteer at the school such as coordinating Friday’s fifth-grade project.

Everything involved in that project, she said, was made possible by donations from the students, their parents, aunts, grandparents, even people they don’t know and complete strangers who have heard what the students were trying to do and simply pitched in. Some people have left boxes of items on her doorstep. Recently, someone dropped off a box of ChapStick lip balm by her front door “with a little note that said, ‘for the troops’,” Vander Veen said.

Even the money for the postage needed to mail the packages is donated, Vander Veen said. One young married couple, for instance, “gave me money (to mail) three boxes, she said. The Post Office charges a flat rate of $10.95 for each of the standard boxes.

Picking citrus for food bank, delivering food to elderly
Ripon Christian’s high school students were scattered in two-dozen different places on Friday doing their own Spiritual Emphasis work of mercy. Some went to Modesto, Stockton, Manteca, Tracy, and Oakdale, Vander Veen said.

Some of the older students went and picked citrus fruit from residential areas that they put in boxes which they then delivered to local food banks. Others went to the Pregnancy Resource Center in Oakdale where they volunteered to sort clothes.

Middle-school students – sixth through eighth grade – tackled 18 different projects ranging from making fleece blankets at a facility for abused and homeless youth, doing cleaning at Bethany Manor, to making lasagna that was delivered to the elderly and helping clean a local church.

“This is a huge project,” said Vander Veen.