Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
Like many things since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, people and organizations have had to adapt in order to find ways to help those in need.
Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, Army Community Service and the 15th Military Police Brigade came together to continue the annual tradition of the Angel Tree to help soldiers in need.
To make it happen, the organizations partnered with Str8 Edge Barbershop, 203 B Delaware St., in downtown Leavenworth, whose owner is a former 15th MP Brigade soldier, so that the barbershop could be the gift drop-off location instead of the Post Exchange.
“We wanted to reduce the contact for all involved,” said Jeff Honey, BOSS adviser. “(At the PX), it’s just the environment. There are a lot of people walking by it and touching things.
“It’s one of those things where if we can do just one little thing to take some of the moving parts out of it, that’s probably the best thing to do,” he said.
There are about 20 names on the Angel Tree, Honey said. To donate, stop by the barber shop and choose a name off the tree. Gifts should be brought back, unwrapped and placed under the tree by today.
“It’s really been a big team effort,” Honey said. “We’re all doing this together and for the same reason, to help families out and hopefully shine a light on some families through this holiday season that need it.”
Along with the Angel Tree helping five 15th MP Brigadefamilies, Chaplain (Capt.) Mike Troutt, 40th MP Battalion (Detention), said the brigade has partnered with several other organizations. Wilderson Tree Farm in Basehor, Kan., gave one family an opportunity to pick out a Christmas tree, Officer Christian Fellowship provided three soldiers’ families Christmas presents, and the Lenexa Baptist Church provided 22 Thanksgiving meals to soldiers and their families.
“COVID-19 has forced us out of our ‘normal’ lives and forced us into a world marked by masks, social distancing and abysmal news. Every day, the current and projected news seems to be worse than the previous day and, despite that, life goes on, albeit in a different manner,” Troutt said. “While many of us have become numb to the hidden dangers that we are told surround us every day, we lose sight of what season we are in — a season that is normally marked with generosity, cheer, family gatherings and Santa Claus.
“While we can’t have a holiday season like we did in years past, it is important to remind everyone that there is still generosity, charity and good tidings in the world, and Christmas has a way of breaking through all that fog and contradicting all of that negativity,” he said. “Through the generosity of our community, we are telling the soldiers that we value people, and these gifts are merely the object by which we do so.”
The Religious Services Organization and service members also came together to put together more than 100 holiday baskets each for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.
Helping the homeless
Many people, including members of the military community, have donated their time, money and resources to help those staying at the Leavenworth Interfaith Community of Hope, said Sister Vickie Perkins, homeless shelter director.
Outside the shelter, the homeless and needy of the Leavenworth area have been helped even more thanks to the staff and faculty at Bradley Elementary School, who have been collecting nonperishable food items and toiletries to donate to the Faith Evangelistic Center Blessing Box in downtown Leavenworth.
The idea to collect items for the blessing box was suggested by Bradley fourth-grade teacher, Ally Jackson, who has been collaborating with her family for the past two years to donate to the box regularly. With the donations given by Bradley staff, Jackson said her garage is filled with enough items to keep it stocked through the Christmas season
“People who need items can visit the blessing box without speaking to someone, which can be embarrassing,” Jackson said. “Everyone (at Bradley) was so generous that the table started overflowing. A lot of staff members brought things that were packaged in bulk, so I knew that they would need to be opened and sorted.
“Bringing them home to sort seemed like the easiest solution since I plan to keep bringing the staff donations to the blessing box over winter break,” she said.
Jackson said she sorts items out in several different categories including canned goods, dinners, cereals, snacks and hygiene items.
“This makes it so I can ensure that I am filling the blessing box with a wide variety of things, making each type of donation last longer. When my sister, parents and I were donating items on our own, we could only fill the box every week or two,” Jackson said. “It is only the donations from the Bradley staff that make it possible to keep the box filled each day. … After that, I am hoping that this project will have inspired more members of the community to start contributing to the blessing box.
“There are so many people who have recently found themselves in need in our community (because of COVID-19). We are all lucky to have essential jobs but understand that not everyone is so lucky. We had to find a way to safely help people,” she said. “The blessing box was the perfect solution, as people can pick up needed items without having contact with other people. I can also safely drop off the donations off each day. Contributing to the people of Leavenworth through the blessing box is a way for everyone to come together while staying apart.”
Eisenhower Elementary School staff have also been helping those in need, donating non-perishable food items and toiletries to Catholic Charities.
“We are happy to help others in need and bring joy during a year when joy is difficult for many to find,” said Cindy Wepking, Eisenhower principal.
When the stay-at-home order hit back in March, Jeanne Boetig, English Language Support Course instructor for international spouses, used her gift of quilting to support Project Linus of Greater Kansas City, which provides handmade blankets for children who are sick and in need.
“I subscribe to a magazine called ‘Quilt Maker’ and about four times a year, they will put in projects with patterns that are suggested for Project Linus,” Boetig said. “They are usually colorful and simple block designs and a specific size.”
With that in mind, Boetig, who has been quilting for more than 30 years, created six quilts to donate to the charity, with each have varying themes including a traditional pattern, princess tea party, cars and trucks, friendship stars and girl- and boy-themed “I Spy” activity quilts.
“They’re for kids. They need to be happy and fun,” Boetig said.
Boetig said that several of the fabrics came from her own personal stock collected over the years.
“I take very seriously the gifts of the Holy Spirit and that you are given talents that you have to pay back,” Boetig said. “I feel like I’ve been given a lot, and I should be sharing the talent that I have.”
Boetig has also used the fabrics to create masks for family and friends who have preexisting conditions such as cancer and lupus.
Additionally, Fort Leavenworth Chapel communities came together to pass out more than 200 goodie bags full of games for children 10 years and younger.
“It’s our way of letting the children in our community know that we love them and have not forgotten about them in spite of our current shutdown of children’s activities due to COVID-19,” said Chaplain (Col.) Michael McDonald, Garrison chaplain.
The chapel community also sent out 90 boxes of small gifts to children around the world through Operation Christmas Child.
“Within the Christian tradition, charity is not just something that we do when we have excess, but it is an integral part of the day-to-day practice of the faith. Many of the world’s religions teach on the absolute importance of giving to those in need,” McDonald said. “I believe at Christmastime, we are reminded all the more of the essential nature of giving. The decorations and displays all around us in this season are visual reminders of the profound gift of love that God has given to all of us.”
Tina Carter’s third-grade students at MacArthur Elementary School found a way to help animals in need at the Fort Leavenworth Stray Facility by making catnip toys for the cats in the facility, as well as helping create plans for quarantining cats that came into the facility with upper respiratory infections.
“I wanted to introduce my students to a worthy cause in which they could actively make a difference, even during the current pandemic,” Carter said.
Carter’s class and two other MacArthur third-grade classes worked together to create 45 catnip toys out of child-size socks that were decorated to resemble a fish toy filled with catnip.
With the problem-solving project, Carter said some of the ideas brought up by students included moving the cages of the infected cats, putting the cats in a separate room, placing each cage six feet apart, putting medicine in the food and building a clinic for the sick cats.
“I hope (the students) learned that their ideas are valuable, and that they can contribute to an animal’s well-being even if it’s not their own pet,” Carter said. “I hope that the cats found some comfort from and experienced some playfulness or intellectual exercise with the toys, and that they can bring them along to their future forever homes.
“I appreciated Heidi (Crabtree’s, FLSF coordinator) openness and willingness to accept our assistance and for sharing the real-life problem-solving challenge,” she said. “I enjoyed this first foray into a service project, and I hope to continue working with the shelter, depending on whatever the needs may be.”
Students said they learned a lot about the importance of helping animals and how fun it can be participating in these projects.
“I think that every class should help out in some way at your local animal shelter,” said student Jack Wright.