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Donations sought for Operation Afghan Santa

Christmas boxes and various personal items are being assembled in an effort to thank members of the 229th Engineer Company, who are deployed in Afghanistan.

"Operation Afghan Santa" is the brainchild of Dave Mehls, site manager of Freedom Park in New Richmond. Mehls said he organized the event with the help of American Legion Post 80, New Richmond schools and St. Mary's School.

The 229th Engineer Company, based in Platteville, completed training in New Richmond in 2010 as training for this deployment. The soldiers were tasked with excavating two soccer fields and a parking lot at Freedom Park, saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"This is just kind of my way of saying thanks," Mehls said of Operation Afghan Santa.

The project's kickoff was Oct. 11, just in time for parent-teacher conferences, he said.

Each of the schools is collecting specific items, he said. For example, at the high school, students are collecting individually wrapped beef jerky and Visine, along with a few other items.

Other items needed include: baby wipes, toothpaste, tooth brushes, dental floss, decks of cards, deodorant (3 ounces or less), hard candy, gum, Twizzlers, Kleenex, water flavoring packets, sunscreen, pens, pencils, letters from children, razors and gently used books or magazines. Monetary donations are also being accepted to help pay for postage, which is estimated to be about $500. Donations can be left at the Civic Center or brought to American Legion Post 80 on Friday mornings.

Donations will be accepted until Oct. 26, when they'll be packaged during a community packing event. On Nov. 12, the Monday after Veteran's Day, the care packages will be mailed to the troops in Afghanistan.

"There are 147 soldiers in the unit," Mehls said. "We'll send out 294 boxes, so each soldier should get two small boxes with items."

To help raise awareness for Operation Afghan Santa, students at each of the schools (with the exception of St. Mary's School) will wear camouflage colors (brown, green, tan, etc.) on Oct. 19.

For more information about the project, contact Mehls at 715-781-2211.