While many teenagers were eagerly anticipating what gifts they will receive this holiday season, students at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City were making sure that soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center don't go empty-handed.
Mount Hebron High staged its fourth annual Operation Remembering Our Troops for soldiers recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda. During the drive, which was launched by office secretary Maura Dribben, the school collected such items as gift cards of $5 or $10 that soldiers can use at department stores and grocery stores, as well as phone cards.
They also collected board games such as Monopoly and Scrabble, 500-piece jigsaw puzzles, puzzle books, crossword puzzle books and playing cards.
In addition to the students, teachers, parents and members of local community groups took part in the event, Dribben said. They dropped off the items in the Mount Hebron attendance office, where Dribben gathered them to take home daily. Then on Christmas Eve, she and her husband, a West Point graduate who has also spent time at Walter Reed, were scheduled to deliver the gifts to Walter Reed.
"We have a large contingent of kids that have military families, and I think they are more thoughtful after 9/11. It hit so close to home," said Dribben. "We're very fortunate here because I think our kids are very giving people; they come from families that like to help. When they have the word and the parents get the word, they can talk about it at home and say, 'Yeah, we want to do this.'"
As of Tuesday, the school had collected about $500 in gift cards alone.
It is one of two gift-giving events that have become synonymous with Mount Hebron. Another is the SGA Canned Food Drive, which as of Tuesday had collected more than 35,000 cans.
"The canned food drive is amazing. I had no idea until last year when I saw it in action," said Dribben. "I had no idea how much work they put in to making other people happy. And they want to do this. It is an incredible experience."
Mount Hebron senior Clare Chatham said that each year, she and her family donate such items as gift cards and puzzles to Operation Remembering Our Troops. She said her grandfathers and uncles are veterans, and that the donations to Walter Reed are among many gift-giving activities they have taken part in; others include sending school supplies to Iraqi children.
"Helping with these projects makes me feel like I'm doing something important," Chatham said.
Dribben said that each year, she puts the word out via flier or newsletter, and the students respond. Often, she said, their parents approach her in November to ask whether she is conducting the drive again.
"I know that there's a lot of stories down there [in Walter Reed] to be told; this was just one of the things to make their hospital stay a little bit nicer," said Dribben, who added that the school also provides items for the soldiers' families.
Dribben said that because of the large military presence in the community, folks began considering troops during the holiday season as early as the Army-Navy football game, which is popular in the community.
"They see the troops, and it all makes sense to them to give at this time of year," she said. "They get the information they need to do what is right, and a lot of them do."