By Anne Marie Amacher
When Father William Kneemiller of the Davenport Diocese was deployed last year to Afghanistan as a chaplain with the U.S. Army Reserves, he wanted to help make a difference for the troops he served and the people in Afghanistan.
As he did while serving as a chaplain in Iraq in 2003, Fr. Kneemiller is writing a column for The Catholic Messenger about his experiences serving troops of different faiths and striving to help people affected by war.
Upon his arrival in Afghanistan, Fr. Kneemiller learned of the troops’ needs for various supplies. Through his Catholic Messenger columns and e-mails to people in the diocese, he has conveyed those needs and people in the diocese are responding.
Lynn Leming, a seventh and eighth-grade teacher at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport, challenged her students to help. Seventh-graders Leo Bormann, Kellen Myers, Logan Bedard and Madeline Darland are among those who helped collect needed supplies, such as toothpaste, deodorant, sample-size personal hygiene items and a favorite — candy.
“They need things for daily use,” Kellen said. “Things that don’t expire,” Leo added. All agreed that candy is a favorite from what they hear. They don’t send chocolate, though, because it can melt.
Junior high students at St. Paul’s were asked around Thanksgiving to prepare care packages to be shipped to the troops in time for Christmas.
Logan said they filled shoeboxes with items and wrapped them like Christmas presents. About 20 shoeboxes were mailed in addition to 500 cards made by students from throughout the school.
Father Greg Steckel, administrator pro-tem for Sacred Heart Parishes in Lost Nation and Oxford Junction, and St. James Parish in Toronto, said parishioners there also sent items for soldiers.
Religious education students and parishioners at the tri-parishes provided boxes with hot cocoa, toothbrushes and toothpaste, plastic bags and other items for the troops. “Plastic bags are used to protect their items during dust storms. They are valuable to the soldiers,” Fr. Steckel said.
This is a year-round project, he noted. “When parishioners see something on sale, they buy it.”
Parishioners have copied a list of needed items and passed it around. One parishioner has donated money for postage. Items are dropped off in boxes and, as they fill up, volunteers sort and mail the packages. “I haven’t had to worry much. They always get it done,” Fr. Steckel said.
Leming learned through an e-mail from Fr. Kneemiller of the need for school supplies for children attending school in the city of Qulat, near the Kandahar base where the priest is stationed. Nearly 90 percent of the Afghan population is illiterate, he said. Students learn in tents as there are no solid structures for their education.
The St. Paul students began collecting items for students, as did Edna Koogler of St. Mary Parish in Sigourney. She said she learned about Fr. Kneemiller’s deployment in The Catholic Messenger and wanted to help when he needed school supplies. She and two friends gathered supplies and mailed them to Fr. Kneemiller. Altogether, donors from the diocese contributed 350 backpacks, 50 small white boards, 250 dental kits, pens, pencils and a few toys to distribute to children at Deresal Primary School, Fr. Kneemiller said in an e-mail.
Following the school supply project, St. Paul students made Valentines for soldiers in Afghanistan.
“We made valentines for those serving and veterans in the hospital who are still on duty,” Madeline said. The valentines were sent to Fr. Kneemiller for distribution.
Now the sixth, seventh and eighth-graders at St. Paul’s are working on raising funds to help build a water tank and steps so that students can safely enter a latrine in Qulat, Afghanistan. In an e-mail Fr. Kneemiller forwarded from the Provincial Reconstruction Team (U.S. forces), a U.S. Army Specialist noted there is no water source at the school and that children have fallen trying to enter the latrine.
The St. Paul students said water is something they and other Americans take for granted. But in Afghanistan, “It’s gold to them.”
The students now hope to offer a fundraiser, such as a dance, to get the entire Quad-City community’s support.