The books, backpacks and calculators in Fran Curtis' classroom lay piled in corners and shoved to the back of countertops. In their place, front and center before the students, stood stacks of batteries, chewing gum and Rice Krispie Treats. Here and there, an MP3 player could be seen buried beneath bags of other goodies stuffed into long rows of identical white boxes.
With the support of his bosses in the Contra Costa County Office of Education and with the financial backing of the Legion Riders, American Legion and the Legion Auxiliary, Curtis has his at-risk students taking a break from their regular studies for a lesson in real-life humanitarianism. The boxes they were packing would soon be winging their way to the front-line outpost of Sgt. Maj. Jeff Balistreri, an Army Ranger serving in Khowst, Afghanistan.
Curtis stumbled on Balistreri's name while reviewing his own service record online. A friend of Balestreri's father, Curtis has known the sergeant major since he was 10. Coincidentally, Curtis served in Khowst during his own career, training the guys he's out there looking for now, he said.
Curtis learned via e-mail that American troops were providing free medical care and humanitarian assistance to local Khowst citizens, and donations were needed to help continue the work. In addition to his Legion comrades, he enlisted the help of Sports Chalet, Target, Costco and stores stretching from Antioch to Tracy, all of which made donations aimed at helping the people of Afghanistan and thereby the American troops.
I know a lot of groups are doing this and that is cool; there are a lot of military out there, Curtis said. I'm just making this one a little more personal. It's great when someone hears what you're doing and the next day stops by with a hundred in cash.
The kids also write letters and do more than just help with the packing.
They are bringing stuff in for the Afghan kids, Curtis said. One thing I have noticed is that some of the toughest kids are getting into this mission, especially when they see people from all walks of life bringing in stuff to the classroom. So this mission is serving several ends.
The ongoing effort is greatly appreciated by the members of Balestreri's unit.
We cannot thank everyone involved enough for all the support, he wrote in a recent e-mail to Curtis. We are embedded training teams for the Afghan national army. We live, eat and work with the Afghan soldiers. We mentor them in infantry, artillery, combat engineer, administrative and logistical aspects of running a professional army. We train and fight right alongside of them.
We realize that it takes a lot of time, money and effort to show support for us over here. We really appreciate it and it doesn't go unnoticed. It does make one proud to be an American.
Those wishing to contribute to the effort can make out checks payable to American Legion Riders (or ALR) Post 202. Items for care packages can be dropped off at 550 Harvest Park Road, Suite D in Brentwood between 8 a.m. and noon, Monday through Friday. For more information, call Curtis at 925-325-0317.