SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The opening of the New York State Fair would have to wait. For 15-year-old Amanda Jones, there were more important matters to attend to on Thursday. She was among a dozen 4-H members stuffing writing supplies, disposable cameras and others gifts into "hero packs" for children whose parents will soon be deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq with Reserve or National Guard units.
"I feel good about doing this. I know it will make someone else feel good, too," said Jones, a 10th-grader from Dexter, N.Y., not far from the U.S. Army's Fort Drum, home of the busy 10th Mountain Division. While none of her family members are in the military, she said she knew classmates who had a parent deployed to a combat zone.
"Giving up your mom or dad to go fight the war and help protect our country is a pretty big deal," she said.
The hero pack initiative is part of Operation Military Kids, a nationwide effort involving 4-H and the U.S. Army Child Youth Services, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and other organizations to provide support and networking for children with parents in the military reserves who are deployed. Click here for more information on Operation Military Kids.
Those "suddenly military" youth often live in civilian communities and don't have on-base support services to help them deal with their parents' deployments, said Gwyn Donohue, a spokeswoman for the National 4-H Council.
The packs contain items designed to help children and teenagers deal with the stress of a parent being away from home, and other items to help them keep connected with their deployed parents, she said.
The project started two years ago in four states. Last year, more than 16,000 packs were given out in 36 states, said Sherrie Wright, the national program leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
At the New York Fair, youth from five upstate New York counties — Erie, Essex, Jefferson, Livingstone, Wyoming — will be working on the hero packs during the next 12 days, said Kelly Oram, a curriculum specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Jefferson County.
On Thursday, the group planned to fill 70 donated backpacks for families with the New York Air National Guard 174th Fighter Wing, which is sending a force of 400 to the Middle East at the end of the year.
Other items added to the backpacks were imitation dog tags, a 4-H cap, medal-style pins, a pen-and-pencil carrying case, information on 4-H and a personal thank-you letter.
At another booth, other 4-H youth were helping fairgoers construct "worry dolls" out of clothespins, yarn and glue. Those will be added to the hero packs.
"It's not a lot, but it lets those kids know that someone cares about them and is thinking about them," said Katherine Konvinse, 15, a 4-H member from Gainesville, N.Y.
For the remainder of the fair, the 4-Hers will be stitching and sewing together backpacks from scratch. Oram hoped to finish 50. Those will go to families in the 109th Airlift Wing, based in Scotia, N.Y., she said.
"It's a thank you gift to express our gratitude that they are sharing their parents to help fight the global war on terrorism," Oram said.