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MEA collects three truckloads of items for troops
MEA Donations 1
Manteca Educators Association president Ken Johnson, right, shown standing with Board of Education member Michael Seelye, along with Board President Don Scholl at left, pose with McParland School students holding some of the items they donated to the Lodi Support for Troops Holiday Cheer Box drive. - photo by PHOTOS CONTRIBUTED

Mission accomplished. That’s how Manteca Educators Association president Ken Johnson described the completion of the group’s annual project benefiting American soldiers overseas during the holidays.

He delivered three trucks full of donated items to the Lodi Support Our Troops for their annual Holiday Cheer Box Drive. This is a volunteer effort which makes sure American service men and women serving in far flung parts of the globe away from their loved ones have a merry Christmas.

Johnson himself went to nearly a dozen schools in the district to gather all the items collected by the teachers and students. He then took three separate trips in his truck to deliver the goods to the organization in Lodi.

The donations, which run the gamut from hard candies and meat jerky to disposable razors and personal-sized mouthwash, came from Manteca Unified School District teachers and students who started the collection at the beginning of October. An early deadline was set for the donations “so that the soldiers can receive (the care packages) in time for the holidays,” Johnson explained at that time.

The Lodi group with the help of volunteers will get the care packages ready for shipping on Nov. 8 when they hold their annual holiday packing party.

In addition to the personal care items, more than 2,000 hand-written letters from students in the school district were collected and delivered to the Lodi organization. They will be sent to the American soldiers overseas along with the care packages. A cash donation of $500 was also handed to LaRonda Templeton and her Lodi Support Our Troops crew as part of MEA annual drive.

On hand for the send-off before Johnson took the donations to Lodi were Board of Trustees Don Scholl, presidenet; and members Michael Seelye and Sam Fant.

When Johnson started collecting items for the Lodi Support For Troops six years ago, he had no idea it would turn out into a district-wide effort with three trucks full of care items, not to mention the cash donation and the letters that the students personally wrote to soldiers.

“I started out doing this by myself six years ago. I asked my students to write letters and donate items, and then gradually over time, I reached out to my fellow teachers as MEA president, and we had more letters and donations. And then, this year, we sent the letters about the project home with each students in the school district,” he said.

“Every year we get better. We get more people involved, we get more donations and we get more letters.”

But, he added, allowing himself some wistful thinking, “Hopefully we don’t have to do it next year, and our (service) men and women will be home.”

Driving to all the schools in the district collecting all the donations and letters, and then taking three separate trips to make the delivery in Lodi was a task.

“But that’s a small price to pay for what our people are doing over there putting themselves in harm’s way. A lot of them don’t have families in the states; for whatever reason, they don’t have contact with their families. The military is their family. This is just to let them know that we’re thinking about them,” Johnson said.

While the MEA drive is over, anyone can still donate items to the Holiday Cheer Box. You can bring these to the packing party on Nov. 8 in Lodi. For details about the location and time, call LaRonda Templeton at (209) 745-2849.