EPPING — Students in the National Elementary Honor Society at Epping Elementary School usually wait until their new members are inducted into the group before taking on a service project, but not this year.
The fifth-graders who are already members didn’t want to wait for the fourth-graders to be inducted on Nov. 21.
They were so excited to collect stocking stuffers to send to American troops overseas for Christmas that they launched a drive before the induction ceremony.
It took just one week to collect nearly 1,000 items donated by students at the elementary school.
They filled several boxes with everything from gum, breath mints and tea bags to nail clippers, boxes of cookies and small bottles of hand sanitizer.
On Friday, the students handed the boxes over to Lorraine Bateman, an Epping resident who is also a member of the Pease Greeters, an organization that welcomes troops passing through Pease International Airport in Portsmouth.
Bateman plans to deliver the boxes to a Pease Greeter in charge of care packages. The packages will then be prepared and sent to troops in Afghanistan and other parts of the world in time for the holidays.
Bateman appeared shocked by the big haul when she arrived Friday to pick up the boxes.
“Talk about patriotism. I’m speechless,” she said.
The students hope their effort will inspire other kids to help out the troops who will be away for the upcoming holidays.
“Hopefully they’ll want to give back to their soldiers and realize how much work they’ve done for us,” said Honor Society President Abby Walsh, 10,
The students seemed to take the donation deadline seriously.
“They were talking about, ’Oh, I need to get stuff in before the time,’” said Abby’s twin sister, Maddy, the group’s vice president.
Honor Society member Owen Hayes, 10, said the students split up into groups to collect the items from preschool to grade five.
“I collected donations from kindergarten and I was surprised because in one day they actually filled up a whole box with food. It was actually just one class. It was pretty amazing,” Owen said.
Meghan Murphy, 10, said she was also surprised by the number of items collected.
“It was really fun doing it,” she said.
The group’s advisor, first-grade teacher Phyllis Mahalaris, said she was amazed by how the students came together to pull off the drive so quickly.
“They did this all in one week. They rallied together,” she said. “We knew when we first met with them as a group that they were a very special group. They are enthusiastic. They are hard-working, they are creative. They just have a lot of good ideas.”
Principal Mark Vallone said it’s important for the students to remember that troops are serving the country all across the globe.
“They’re far away from home at the holidays and this is a way to help them a little bit and give the kids a chance to do something that’s within their powers,” he said.
The school is planning other events to honor local veterans, including a luncheon and ceremony on Nov. 7. Veterans will be invited to attend and receive a free lunch with the students.