Boy Scout brings holidays from home to troops

HOWLAND — A Lakeview High School freshman is making sure the service members overseas this holiday season are not forgtten with his ”Operation Closer to Home” effort, which is also his Eagle Scout project.

A group of 25 volunteers gathered Nov. 28 at the USO distribution headquarters in Howland to box the donations of hygiene items, cookies, books, snacks, sunscreen, headphones, games and miniature decorated Christmas trees.

The more than 75 care packages and boxes will be sent overseas to troops serving in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Jeffrey Jiang, 14, of Cortland and a member of Troop 54, said he was able to raise $2,400 from a bake sale, raffle and other fundraising efforts as well as donations from businesses and individuals to purchase the various items for the care boxes. Fundraisers were held at Lakeview schools.

Jiang said his older brother, Skylar Mulligan, 19, is erving in the U.S. Army and he thought of him and all the other men and women who represent the United States overseas.

”I am a very patriotic person and admire our servicemen and felt this is something I wanted to do to support them,” Jiang said.

One item he wanted to make sure each package included was cookies, which were made by volunteers.

”Each package will have 10 to 15 cookies inside,” he said.

Jiang said Bruce Bille, executive director of the USO Northeast Ohio, welcomed the project and had the volunteers bring three carloads of items and boxes to the Howland site and will help with shipping.

”When we heard of this we felt it was important to work as a team to do something for the troops. This brings something from home for the troops,” Bille said.

Suzanne Sapic, who is Jiang’s assistant scoutmaster and project coach, said ”Jeffrey does so much and is always leaps and bounds above everyone else.”

”He is amazing. He is so dedicated. This has been six months of him pulling all of this together, including all the fundraising. He does more in one week than most people do in a year,” Sapic said.

Matt Fuchilla of Cortland, Jiang’s father, said he was in the military in Somolia during Operation Enduring Hope, so he especially appreciates the effort.

”When people are deployed overseas, especially to a combat zone, they appreciate receiving this. When they get there they only have basic necessities so to get extra items is appreciated,” he said.

Fuchilla, along with his wife, Deanna, and children all helped with packaging items.