H-LP students participate in Project Care Giver

LAKE PARK, Iowa -- Kindergarteners at Lake Park Elementary School are reaching out over 6,000 miles to Iraqi children, sending school supplies, clothing and toys to kids who wouldn't normally receive them.

LAKE PARK, Iowa -- Kindergarteners at Lake Park Elementary School are reaching out over 6,000 miles to Iraqi children, sending school supplies, clothing and toys to kids who wouldn't normally receive them.

"It's already taught them a lot about caring for others and just that there's another world out there besides the United States of America," said longtime kindergarten teacher Jean Rusch.

Rusch's class and the other students of Harris-Lake Park Elementary have already sent about a dozen boxes of school supplies to Iraq, and with monetary donations from businesses, individuals and families, they will likely purchase another eight boxes of supplies to send overseas to needy children.

Rusch's son-in-law, Capt. Ryan Curl of the 2-147 Assault Helicopter Battalion of St. Paul, helps ensure the supplies get to the right places through Project Care Giver.

"This is a huge difference for (Iraqi children). There's no Wal-Mart or CostCo to go buy your basic needs items here," Curl said. "Much of what they have is imported at a high cost and poorly made ... things that we take for granted are often seen as luxuries here."


As kindergarteners, Rusch's students aren't quite proficient writers, but they do diligently write notes and draw pictures for Curl. In return, Curl writes back, telling them about the weather in Iraq and other information he believes a 5-year-old "would find interesting."

The relationship between Curl, Rusch, the kindergarteners and the Iraqi children grew when Rusch's neighbor, Rebecca Luitjens, received $50 for a "pay-it-forward" project from the Character Counts program.

Luitjens opted to give her money to the school for a project and chose to work with her daughter's fifth-grade class and Rusch's kindergarteners.

From there, the project snowballed to involve the entire Harris-Lake Park Elementary School. Students' parents received letters about the project, and boxes placed in the school started filling up with supplies.

Those supplies have been sent, along with a Harris-Lake Park flag the kindergarten class was excited to see in a photo from Iraq. The Harris-Lake Park students received a flag in return that had flown over Iraq March 12, with a thank you note from Curl's company.

The monetary donations -- totaling $450 thus far -- will be used to purchase more supplies later in the year for a second shipment.

"I don't think people in our country realize what they're doing," Rusch said. "They're providing medical care for these children. A lot of (Iraqis) are picking up (school) supplies as they come in for the medical care."

Many of the items Curl's unit hands out to Iraqi kids were originally sent to the soldiers, who sometimes received so many care packages they couldn't use all the contents. Enter Project Care Giver.


"We saw a need and wanted to fill it," Curl said of the Care Giver program. "People back home, including friends, family and sometimes complete strangers, have sent us many care packages filled with everything imaginable. A lot of it was sitting around not being used."

Instead of allowing it to go to waste, the soldiers formed Project Care Giver.

The Harris-Lake Park students sent mostly school supplies, but other items on Care Giver's wish list are clothes, diapers, soap and toys. Soccer balls are a favorite.

For soldiers, handing out the items can help build trust between them and the Iraqis, keeping lines of communication open, Curl said. It can also help them directly see the fruit of their work and know they made a difference.

The kindergarteners, meanwhile, learn they can help and care about people who live in another country on the other side of the world.

Curl's company is slated to return to the U.S. in August, so the project will likely not continue in the 2008 school year. Rusch hopes Curl will be able to stop to visit her students, who will then be in first grade.

Donations for Project Care Giver can be sent to Harris-Lake Park Elementary School, Character Counts, 105 Avenue A West, Lake Park, Iowa, 51347.

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