CANONSBURG – Mark McHugh gently placed box after box of everyday items, such as sanitary wipes and snacks, into a giant care package that would be sent to a local Marine’s battalion serving in southern Afghanistan.
Then, he came upon a Yuengling beer box that was actually filled with crackers and Girl Scout cookies.
“Boy, they’re going to be disappointed when they open this one and see what’s really inside,” McHugh said as laughter erupted around the dozen or so volunteers spending their Saturday afternoon packing the box to send overseas.
Members of the Elks Lodge 846 in Canonsburg have been organizing a donation drive in recent weeks to send to Lance Cpl. Brandon Wehrle and his battalion based at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
Kathy Almasy, whose son is also a Marine, wanted to find a way to help a local serviceman when she found Wehrle, 19, a 2012 Canon-McMillan graduate and North Strabane Township resident, through the Marine Corps recruiter’s office in Washington. As the U.S. military’s mission winds down in Afghanistan, the post exchanges have fewer personal supplies as the troops prepare to close bases, she said.
She and the Elks Lodge, where she is a member, spent weeks organizing the “Boxes for Brandon’s Battalion” donation drive in the Canon-Mac communities, receiving help from various local businesses. They put donation boxes at the Elks, Sam’s Pizza, Bahr Hardware and Jeffrey’s Drug Store and also received additional items from Canon-McMillan High School students who organized a competition within their classes.
An earlier “practice run” to send a 22-pound box to the battalion spurred them to load 300 pounds of supplies on a pallet box at the Elks Lodge Saturday in preparation to ship it overseas today.
“We had such a big response we went up to a pallet,” Almasy said. “Everyone we asked for help is saying yes.”
That was comforting to Brandon’s parents, Brian and Lisa Wehrle, who didn’t know Almasy until she approached them with the idea. The North Strabane couple was touched by the gesture and appreciated the outpouring of support from the Elks and community.
“It shows there are good people in the world,” Brian Wehrle said. “We really appreciate it. There are little things we send (to Brandon), but you can see what they’re sending them.”
Brian Wehrle said the community is very supportive of the troops, but acknowledges they aren’t always in the forefront of peoples’ minds every day. He said this was a nice reminder for everyone as the military prepares to end the nearly 13-year-old war by the end of 2014.
“Sometimes, they slip our mind as we go about our daily tasks,” he said.
They praised Almasy and the Elks for their hard work and dedication to the troops.
“Without the Elks and Kathy, this wouldn’t have happened,” Lisa Wehrle said.
Almasy said the Elks will pay for the hefty price to ship the giant box to the Marines. The success of “Boxes for Brandon’s Battalion” has prompted the Elks Lodge members to prepare to send monthly care packages or possibly adopt another local serviceman when Wehrle returns home.
“These are perfect strangers helping others out,” Brian Wehrle said.
A list of the supplies needed for additional care packages and other information about the donation drive can be found on the “Boxes for Brandon’s Battalion” Facebook page.