In a few months, children in the former Yugoslavia will receive Red Cross aid packages prepared by second-graders at Bushy Park Elementary School.
And when they open the small, white boxes to find the household items inside, the children in that war-torn region also will find photos of the students who prepared the packages more than 5,000 miles away.
"It was their idea to send pictures," said Stephanie Milligan, teacher of gifted and talented students at Bushy Park Elementary who prepared the aid shipments. "Their getting the boxes . . . with a school and a state name on it doesn't really tell them a lot about the person that's sending the box. This makes it more personal."
Today, about 100 second-graders at Bushy Park will pack their "friendship boxes," which will be added to boxes packed yesterday by other second-graders at Guilford Elementary School in Columbia, where Ms. Milligan also teaches part-time.
The packages and others from Red Cross Centers across the county will be sent to Croatia, said Leni Uddyback, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross offices in Baltimore, who estimated that delivery would take several months.
Yesterday, Ms. Milligan's students talked about why they were preparing the packages.
"There's a war going on there, and there's nothing to do, because almost everything is destroyed," said Kimberly Hepner, 7, of Sykesville.
The shipments are important, "so they'll know somebody cares about them, so they don't have to sit around and watch everybody have the war," said Lindsay Welling, 7, of Sykesville.
Added Andrew Martowski, 7, of Dayton: "If nobody cares about them, then they'd probably be very sad."
Ms. Milligan got her students interested in sending the boxes as a way of making a personal connection between the students and their knowledge of the world at large.
"One of the things they can learn out of this is that they're thankful for what they have," said Ms. Milligan.
Although Ms. Milligan and the children originally had expected to send their boxes to Bosnia, Ms. Uddyback said they would be sent instead to Croatia, where a Red Cross official is on a six-month assignment working with war victims throughout the former Yugoslavia.
All the aid boxes will contain the same donated personal and school supplies: a toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, tissues, ruler, pencil and pen.
In addition, the boxes will be packed with a variety of toys donated by parents, such as jump ropes, marbles and coloring books.
"It's amazing the amount of things they sent," Ms. Milligan said of the parents. "We got 200 tubes of toothpaste with toothbrushes, 100 boxes of crayons, about 300 pencils and about 100 pens."
Asked what he would want if he were trapped in that war-torn region, Peter Mech, 7, of Dayton, said he would want paper and pens, "so I can draw or color, or make things. Maybe like a coloring book, stuff like that."
Even better, he said, would be cards and figures from the "X-Men" comic book series.
If he was deprived of the items in the boxes, he said, "it would be kind of sad, and boring."