– An empty 53-foot trailer parked in front of Crystal Lake South High School on Thursday morning didn’t stay empty for long.
A group of eight students and faculty members quickly loaded the truck with boxes full of supplies destined for troops overseas. Come Saturday, the entire trailer, which is memorialized with pictures of killed-in-action McHenry County service members, will be filled with supplies from various corners of the community, said Joe Alger of Crystal Lake.
Working with volunteer organization Operation Support Our Troops America, Alger was joined by a myriad of local supporters in a three-week effort to collect much-needed items to eventually be shipped overseas.
Alyssa Dick, high school senior and president of the Crystal Lake South National Honors Society, said the school contributed about 18 boxes of supplies. The collection – items from toothbrushes to socks to soap were donated – began right after Veteran’s Day.
“We asked people to bring in items and had a competition between classrooms,” she said, standing next to boxes brimming with granola bars and vitamins. “I would say we ended up getting over 1,000 items.”
Three seniors at Prairie Ridge High School also dedicated hours of their time to benefit recipients they’ll likely never meet.
Haley Glenn, Maddie Nowakowski and Natalie Favia were introduced to the cause by one of their teachers.
“We turned to each other and just decided, if we do this, we’re not going to do it halfway,” Glenn said. “We’re going to do it big.”
For weeks, the students spread word to fellow classmates and walked up and down Route 14 soliciting businesses for donations. Their effort garnered about 25 boxes full of supplies. Additionally, they organized a fundraiser at Culver’s that raised $600 and had area elementary students write a total of 250 letters to send to troops.
“I don’t think any of us realized how easy it was for us to do something like this,” Nowakowski said.
And it wasn’t just students and schools that got involved.
Alger, who is the chief operating officer of Crystal Lake-based JA Frate, said a number of local businesses and agencies took part, too, including Country Donuts, the Woodstock Police Department, TEQ Packaging and Sage Products, among several others.
The supply drive has become an annual endeavor for Alger, a veteran of the U.S. Army like his son, father and grandfather.
“I don’t know that any of these packages are going to save anyone’s life,” he said. “But what they will do is make [the troops] understand that the people back home haven’t forgotten them.”
Alger on Saturday will take the truckload of supplies to Operation Support Our Troops’ headquarters, where the items will be sorted, packaged and shipped in January.
The 11-year-old, Lisle-based organization has shipped about 1.5 million pounds worth of supplies to date, estimated organization founder and president Deborah Rickert of Naperville.
She explained each package is addressed to an individual soldier, but is packed with enough goods to share with 10 people. The organization includes a note in each package asking troops what items they most need, and the responses help determine what Operation Support Our Troops collects.
“For us to be able to step in and help in this small way is pretty powerful,” said Rickert, who has had two children in the military. “And we couldn’t do it without people like Joe Alger and the local communities.”