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'Operation Afghan Santa' nears completion

Carmen Beauvais, Chuck Mehls, Jerry Dubois and Dave Mehls sort through the items donated for "Operation Afghan Santa."

Hundreds of boxes will soon be on their way to soldiers in Afghanistan as part of "Operation Afghan Santa."

Members of the American Legion Post 80, VFW Post 10818 and various school and city representatives worked to sort and organize supplies donated by students, staff and community members for "Operation Afghan Santa."

The project, led by Dave Mehls, site manager of Freedom Park in New Richmond, was organized as a way to thank the members of the 229th Engineer Company from Platteville.

The 229th Engineer Company completed training in New Richmond in 2010 as training for this deployment. The soldiers were tasked with excavating two soccer fields and a parking lot at Freedom Park, saving the city thousands of dollars. They're expected to serve a nine-month deployment, said Carmen Beauvais, a Star Prairie resident whose husband, Jordan, is deployed with the unit.

"They left about a month ago, but spent two months in training before that," she said. "So for a family member they've been gone three months."

Carmen Beauvais said the unit is expected back in the United States in July 2013.

Mehls said he got the idea for "Operation Afghan Santa" from his father, Chuck Mehls, a member of the American Legion in New Richmond. Chuck Mehls had previously organized two similar events, known as "Operation Sandbox Santa."

The soldiers will receive two boxes, Mehls said. The first box will contain various toiletries, including eye drops, deodorant, a toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss. The second box will contain various food items, including mints, beef jerky, gum and other hard candies.

Boxes of magazines, books and other reading material are also being sent to the troops.

The project's kickoff was Oct. 11, just in time for parent-teacher conferences, Mehls said. Students from each of the public schools in New Richmond, along with St. Mary's School, collected various items.

On Friday, Nov. 2, workers spent an afternoon sorting and counting those items.

"Looks like we're a little low on some things so we'll have to buy a few items," Mehls said.

Mehls said Apple River Dental in Somerset helped fulfill some of those items by donating 72 toothbrushes, 24 small toothpastes and 72 dental floss.

Letters from the students will accompany the items being sent to the soldiers, Chuck Mehls said.

"We'll be sure to include all the letters we get," he said. "That's very important."

Some of the canned food items donated included notes from kids. One can of tuna had a handwritten note taped to it asking the soldiers to fight hard. A can of sweet corn included a sweet note thanking the soldier and a statement hoping that he/she will enjoy the sweet corn.

Money donated by the Knights of Columbus ($618.70) and residents Rosemary Neck ($50) and Chuck Jacoby ($20) will be used to send the items overseas. Additional funds from The Sportsman Bar ($60) and General Sam's ($200) will be used to purchase additional items.

The group planned to meet again on Nov. 8 to pack, seal and label the boxes for the soldiers. On Nov. 12, the Monday after Veteran's Day, the boxes will be shipped.

"They should be there in plenty of time before Christmas," Chuck Mehls said.