It began as a simple show of support for a cousin in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
It turned into a project propelled by high hopes and teamwork, but wrapped up in bureaucratic red tape.
Now, local Girl Scout Kristen Von Plinsky's parents' Evans home has a room stacked floor to ceiling with care packages.
"I'm working towards my leadership award and one of the requirements is a service project," explained 13-year-old Kristen, a seventh-grader at Greenbrier Middle School. "I didn't think it would be this big of a deal."
The boxes of goodies - packed by the Von Plinskys and the faculty and pupils at Blue Ridge Elementary - are destined for each of the 54 members of the 311th Military Intelligence unit from Fort Campbell, Ky. The boxes are packed with everything from candy bars, beef jerky and instant meals to bars of soap and magazines.
The goodie boxes began as a simple show of support for Kristen's cousin, SPC Alexander "Sparky" Von Plinsky, a member of the 311th specializing in Arabic language. She thought it would be a nice gesture to follow her aunt's lead in sending a care package to Sparky, but then she reasoned that there were probably others in his company that might not get anything at all.
And thus a Girl Scout project was born. Rather than send just one package to her cousin, Kristen hoped to rally her peers to collect various goodies for shipment. After getting little response to the proposal at her own school, Kristen asked principal Joyce Long for permission to pitch the idea at Blue Ridge, where her mother Debra Von Plinsky teaches second grade.
"I think it took a whole lot for her to stand in front of the faculty," Long said. "She is a former Blue Ridge student, but talking to all of us at once I'm sure could be intimidating. But she did a really good job. Basically I told her I would be happy for her to do that and any teachers that wanted to participate, that would be fine."
HOW TO HELP
Anyone interested in helping with the care package project, can reach Kristen, Andrew and Debra Von Plinsky at 869-0924.
Armed with 10-pound-capacity boxes donated by Southern Beverage in Appling, Blue Ridge teachers rallied their own troops. Pupils made cards for the troops -- "Have you seen Osama Bin Laden?", "Come back safely" - and classes made group pictures. They filled boxes and asked for more. Long filled a box of her own, as did members of the art, music and physical education faculty. By May 3, the end of the two-week project, Kristen had easily surpassed her goal of filling 50 boxes for the 311th.
"I didn't think that I would get this much," she said. "Some of them did two boxes."
Now comes the hard part: getting the care packages to Kandahar.
"One way or another we'll get it over there," said Kristen's dad, Andrew.
Before beginning the collection, Kristen had obtained mailing addresses for the members of the 311th from Sparky's wife Brenda, who remains at Fort Campbell with the couple's four-month-old baby. Kristen had also struck a tentative deal with Fort Gordon, which would help shoulder the burden of sending 54 boxes oversees at approximately $11 per box.
"We had planned on using the post office from the start, then one interested parent suggested somebody at the fort and they gave us hope that it would be no problem," said Mr. Von Plinsky. "What you basically have to do is pay postage to New York and then the Army takes over to send it oversees."
But "no problem" became a problem when Fort Gordon realized the care packages weren't going to its own soldiers. Mr. Von Plinsky said Fort Gordon officials were very apologetic, but policy prevented them from helping.
So now 54 boxes sit in a front room, stacked like oversized building blocks in the Von Plinskey's home. Girl Scout regulations limit Kristen's fundraising options, but the Von Plinskys remain confident that Sparky and Co. will be snapping into a Slim Jim soon.
"I'm really excited because she had a great idea and that's more than half of the whole process," Mr. Von Plinsky said. "It's such a wonderful idea and she's been able to pull it off."
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