Assisting service members

For the average eighth-grade student, World War II is ancient history and the story of the North Platte Canteen exists only in the mists of time.

North Platte played an important part in the war effort during WWII with the Canteen, serving more than 6 million service men and women who traveled across the country on their way to Europe and the Pacific, then home again.

Honoring servicemen and women is more than an ideal for American History teacher Neil Hokanson. It’s personal. His mother was living in Britain during WWII and survived thanks to the kindness and generosity of American troops.

When Hokanson’s students at Adams Middle School reviewed the importance of the Canteen during their study of WWII, they decided to find a way to help the idea of serving the military from the homefront live on in the 21st Century.

On Monday, the students launched Operation Shoebox to collect items for care packages that will be sent to American servicemen and women around the world.

“My mother has talked about living in England during the war and the kindness of the American soldiers,” Hokanson said. “An American soldier gave her the first banana she ever saw.”

Hokanson wanted to encourage his students to keep the North Platte Canteen spirit alive and well. He contacted the Operation Shoebox, founded in 2003 by Mary Harper. Five of her children and two of her sons-in-law were stationed around the world and after learning from them that troops didn’t receive many care packages or mail, she went to work.

While troops are provided with the basic necessities such as meals and shelter, receiving practical tokens of kindness is a real morale booster.

Now the organization ships between 800 and 1,000 care packages a week from Shoebox headquarters in Florida. In 2012, 114 tons of supplies were sent to members of the U.S. military around the world, according to the Operation Shoebox website,

Students in Hokanson’s Intervention and Enrichment class are spearheading the project and are hoping to get the entire Adams Middle School community involved.

Teaching the students about the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve in the military is important, Hokanson said.

“These troops saved my mother,” he said. “My grandfather was in the Royal Air Force where he was a mechanic for Spitfire airplanes. We need to do anything we can to support our troops to honor the sacrifices they made.”

Operation Shoebox at Adams Middle School will be collecting items through March 28. The group hopes to gather a minimum of 1,000 items.

Items needed include hard candy, fruit breezes throat drops, Twizzlers, writing paper and envelopes, pens and pencils, toothbrushes and toothpaste, instant oatmeal, Ramen noodles (any flavor), nutrition bars such as Clifs or Balance, beef jerky, Girl Scout cookies, granola bars and Pop-Tarts, playing cards, baby wipes, feminine hygiene products and travel-size body wash.

Collection boxes are set up at Adams Middle School in the hallways and at the main office.

“The students get it,” Hokanson said. “They understand how important it is to recognize the efforts of our military. They are excited about wanting to do something.”

NP students collect items to send to troops

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