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SAAC Mobilizes W&L Troops for Soldier Care Package Drive

Washington and Lee University’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) is working together with various groups across campus and within the Lexington Community to send care packages to 486 soldiers in Afghanistan.

SAAC is a group of student-athlete leaders that serves as the voice of the student-athlete community to the university administration, the Lexington community, and the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. Each varsity sport has one voting representative and one non-voting member.

Rolf Piranian, the men’s head soccer coach, started the first soldier care package drive three years ago. Under the supervision of SAAC, the W&L community collected items for 200 soldiers in the HHC First Brigade, Special Troops Battalion of the 82nd Airborne. This brigade has since returned to the United States.

This year, SAAC has taken on a hefty challenge: it is now organizing the drive for 500 soldiers of the Blackhawk Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division.

“We were asked if we were able to sponsor a Battalion made up of five companies, thus doubling our effort from years past,” said Sarah Simpson, captain of the women’s swim team and the SAAC co-chair of the Package Committee. “We discussed the logistical issues associated with taking on nearly 500 soldiers instead of our usual 200, but in the end decided that it would not be right to send care packages to only half of the Battalion. We realized that there were several avenues that had not been tapped in the past. We knew that in order to be able to provide items to 486 men and women, we needed to realize every donation source possible.”

SAAC has not only worked at getting W&L student-athletes involved but has also mobiled the community. Each varsity team is responsible for accruing a large amount of a particular item for the care packages. Based on suggestions from the soldiers, the packages will include such items as magazines, books, lip balm, powdered drink mixes, non-perishable snacks, razors, and much more. Some teams asked its members to bring a single item while others designated one member to purchase everything in bulk while the rest contributed monetary donations.

For example, Emily Leary, SAAC member and goalie on the women’s soccer team, bought 125 tubes of travel toothpaste for the women’s soccer donation. “It takes around seventeen minutes to u-scan 125 travel toothpastes. Let’s just say I didn’t make friends in the check out line at WalMart,” she laughed. “Nonetheless, knowing someone halfway across the world would appreciate this more than I can imagine made it all worth the while.”

Many other members of the W&L community have stepped in to help SAAC fulfill the drive. Local dentists donated 600 toothbrushes, students at the elementary schools wrote letters for the soldiers, and professors collected toothpaste and crackers. Notably, long-time W&L employee Thomas Bane, known as “Baner” by generations of students, donated 486 copies of his book Family and Honor.

“The Baner family donation was an unexpected and wonderful surprise,” said Sallie Armstrong, secretary of SAAC and captain of the field hockey and track and field teams. “I think this is a great addition to the boxes because the soldiers can get a better idea of what our community is like and the sense of honor we have here.”

There is still much work to be done though to complete the drive and fulfill the goals SAAC has set. The cost of shipping alone will be $6,000. SAAC has collected $1,300 with donations from students and parents and are hoping to reach their goal with help from the community and the athletic department.

Collection boxes are available in several locations on the campus and in the community. The boxes will be picked up on Friday, Nov. 20.

Simpson added, “All of these contributions have come as surprises to me, but prove that even though the economy has been better, at the end of the day people still care. That kind of selfless generosity has been so encouraging.”

Anyone with questions or wishing to donate should,contact Sarah Simpson at simpsons10@mail.wlu.edu.

— Story by Maggie Sutherland, ’10