When 13-year-old Catonsville resident Andrew Swan decided in June that he wanted to "adopt" an entire ship's worth of Navy sailors, he had no clue it would become such a hit both within Catonsville and beyond.
"I've always wanted to be serving my county," he said. And now, he is.
Andrew has spent his summer collecting donations of care package items, such as candy, gum and sunscreen, to send to the sailors stationed on the USS Theodore Roosevelt as part of a mission he launched himself: Operation CatonsVILLAGE.
The goal, he said, is to collect 1,000 items by Aug. 21. On Aug. 22, the family will ship the package to those serving on the aircraft carrier.
"I started letting people at my church know, then I let my Boy Scout Troop know," he said.
Between his family and other members of the Catonsville community, Swan said Alex received so many letters that other recruits jokingly made fun of him.
"People all over Catonsville were writing him," she said.
After he graduated boot camp and was sent to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla., his family began sending him care packages. When Andrew found out from Alex that a lot of the other sailors he was living with on base weren't receiving anything, Andrew couldn't believe it, their mother said.
"There are people that have never gotten a postcard or a care package or anything," she said.
Alex told Andrew, he should "adopt" a sailor — that is, find a sailor to write letters and send packages to — if he wanted to help so badly, she said.
But as the family began to search for information on how to connectwith a sailor, she said, Andrew came up with a better idea: instead of picking just one, they would adopt a ship-full of sailors.
"My oldest is not even out to sea," Swan said, laughing, adding the decision to sponsor the ship they chose, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, was the product of a lot of Internet searches for ships at sea.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt, according to its website, is more than 20 stories high and almost as long as the length of the Empire State Building. It carries more than 80 aircraft and 6,000 Navy personnel. It is currently stationed in the Persian Gulf.
So far, the support for the project has been overwhelming, Swan said.
As a fundraiser to help cover the cost of shipping, the family held a benefit at Peace A Pizza in July during which the restaurant on Mellor Avenue contributed 20 percent of every order that mentioned the project to Operation CatonsVILLAGE.
As another fundraiser, and because Andrew wanted T-shirts for the project, Swan said, the family worked with EmbroidMe on Baltimore National Pike to get shirts for a discount that they then sold to help support the project.
Since creating a Facebook page for Operation CatonsVILLAGE and being featured on WJZ, Andrew has also received donations and letters from people around the country wanting to get involved or simply voice their support.
Andrew said he plans to write thank you notes to everyone who contributed.
"There's stuff coming from as far as Portland, Ore. at this point," Swan said, adding that she was confident they'd already met their goal of 1,000 items by the first couple days of August, though the final count hasn't yet been made.
"It is incredible," Swan said. "It's just awesome."