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A Mission of Her Own

A Mission of Her OwnTufts staff member Kathleen Kiernan's effort to boost her son's morale in Iraq has, with the help of her colleagues, had an even greater impact than she originally anticipated.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.29.09] When Kathleen Kiernan's son Dan was stationed in Iraq five years ago, she would send him care packages at least once a week. One day, her son asked for more boxes-not for himself, but for other soldiers who had not been receiving weekly packages from home.

That was the day Kiernan began her mission to support the troops. After a few months of shipping boxes out of her own pocket, Kiernan decided to involve others in what she considered a worthy cause.

Kiernan, an administrative assistant in the office of the executive director for university advancement for nearly 22 years, began asking her colleagues for donations of items to send to the troops. Her fundraising efforts continued to grow, and last year for the Christmas shipment, she received enough goods to send 33 boxes to troops overseas.

"Not only did I have food products, toiletries and games to send over, but people also contributed money for shipping and handling," Kiernan said. "So, a lot of the expense didn't come out of my pocket."

Even though her son is no longer stationed overseas, Kiernan is keeping up her commitment to help the troops. She ships boxes twice a year-in May/June and October/November-and accepts donations of goods and money year-round.

Kiernan acknowledges the importance of all of the staff members at Tufts who have aided in her mission to remind the soldiers that people at home are thankful for their service.

As she finished up collecting goods and money for her summer shipment, she answered a few questions about the cause and how the Tufts community has rallied to help her:

 

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What do you look for to put into the packages? What have you found soldiers need the most when they're in Iraq?

Kiernan: Granola bars, deodorant, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, all kinds of snacks. They're over there for 13 months, and they're basically just eating the service food. By getting those packages, they got a little reprieve from eating just the army food.

From my knowledge...the soldiers just didn't eat what we sent to them. They also brought bags of candy and toys like baseballs and footballs and things that I've sent over [out on patrol] and they've passed them out to the Iraqi children. I am hoping that shows the Iraqi children how nice the soldiers are and that we're not the enemy.

Have you gotten any responses from the soldiers that you've sent packages to?

Kiernan: My son, after I sent the boxes, he called and said that the men said thank you and things like that. I did receive a letter back [from Griffin Johnson, son of Executive Director Eric Johnson who was also serving in Iraq] telling that the troop said thank you for sending the packages, that they appreciated it and that it was nice to know that we haven't forgotten them. And then I heard from one of the other soldiers [Thomas Schlichter, son of director of planning and administration Sunny Callahan]. He was the one that actually said it was like Christmas morning. I believe he got about 8 to 10 boxes sent to his unit.

How has the Tufts community responded and were you surprised that there was such a fast growth in your donations?

Kiernan: I was very surprised for the October/November distribution last year because I went from 14 all the way up to 33. After they found out that I keep going higher and higher, they realized...that's a good place, a good cause. I mean, who has not heard of the war? This is one way of giving back to the soldiers. I am paying it forward.

Last year, I had a Girl Scout group that collected for me, but they also made thank you letters and they made colored pictures and things like that. I thought that was awesome... [the soldiers] also like to see these little cards from young kids.

Why do you think it's important for people to give to the soldiers in Iraq? Out of all the different causes, what makes this one special?

Kiernan: I think a lot of people are patriotic, and they didn't know where or when or how to send packages. I was kind of like a go-to person that they could actually give the items to and know that the packages were going over there, also knowing that the packages were being given to the names that were on the list of names I had collected, not just to anybody over there. I think people feel good about giving.

I have asked the whole entire building [containing the offices for University Advancement, Alumni Relations and University Relations, as well as administrative offices in Ballou Hall] to give. I would say maybe 65 percent of them give. And they repeatedly give to me because they know that it's going somewhere to good people. They hear nice stories coming back that the soldiers appreciate it, so it's just a good cause. Why should we forget them just because we're home and they're 24/7 fighting for our freedom?

It's [easier] for us to put packages in the mail, tape them up, and send a note, than it is for them to do what they do everyday. I'm proud of my son and thankful that he came home and I'm proud of all the other soldiers that are serving. I hope I can continue to do this for a long time, at least until the war is over and our soldiers can come home.

Interview and story by Catherine Scott (A'11).

 

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