Chocolate Drive to Provide Holiday Cheer for Soldiers
BY HANNAH SHARPE
Nancy Saquilan is challenging the community to support an effort to send pieces of home to troops abroad this holiday season, while helping local Junior ROTC cadets raise money.
Saquilan is heading up a fundraiser called "Operation Piece of Home," a 10-day World's Finest Chocolate sale that will send cases of the chocolate candy bars to troops in Afghanistan and allow the 153 cadets in the Pinecrest High School Air Force JROTC program to raise money for their admission to the program's annual military ball next spring.
The deadline to purchase chocolate is Dec. 10.
Members of the community and local businesses can see a cadet to purchase bars individually for $1 or pay $50 to send one case of candy to Afghanistan and to pay for a cadet's entrance to the military ball, a celebration for cadets in the program at the end of the school year.
Nine cases of candy are already en route to soldiers.
Saquilan is sending the candy to her husband, Kevin, a retired Air Force soldier who is in Afghanistan working as a contracted flight attendant.
Every day, Kevin Saquilan sees at least 150 troops as he and his company shuttle them by plane to different regions in Afghanistan - a much safer means of travel for troops and cargo than by ground.
As he meets the soldiers, he offers them the chocolate to take with them as a small token from home.
"A lot of the troops he sees are guys who have come through Bragg," she said. "I don't know anybody who doesn't like a piece of chocolate. It's a piece of home."
Her goal is to mail all the cases by Dec. 10 so that the chocolate is guaranteed to be distributed to troops by Christmas.
Though her husband is scheduled to return home Dec. 24, Saquilan said his co-workers have already signed on to help continue the distribution over the holidays.
The idea came to Saquilan in October when she saw a flier for the chocolate. She remembered selling the chocolate as a fundraiser for her softball team when she was in high school.
After she got the go-ahead from Pinecrest's ROTC parent support group, Saquilan put her plan in motion and challenged the cadets to earn their admittance to the ball, while also sending small tokens of gratitude to troops abroad.
"Instead of having one more thing that parents have to pay for, why not give the students a chance to pay their way?" she said. "It's an all-around win-win situation."
Her family has been sending care packages overseas for years. One Easter, she and her children sent 300 plastic Easter eggs with hand-written notes and a piece of candy inside.
"If you're giving or doing for others, then you stop thinking about what you're doing," she said. "You forget what your burden is."
Saquilan added that because so many people have encountered World's Finest Chocolate in some way, the candy bars offer more than just a piece of chocolate.
"It's made in the U.S.," she said. "It's an American tradition. Everybody sold this chocolate. It's something relatable. It helps take the soldiers away from what they're facing on a daily basis. They are still very much in danger."
On Thursday, Saquilan challenged students at Pinecrest to generate more donated cases to send to Afghanistan.
"I told them, 'I want you to make me scared, because I'm paying to ship all of these boxes!'" she said, laughing.
At $20 per box, she may have to worry, but Saquilan doesn't mind.
"It's definitely something I would do for ROTC anyway," she said.
Saquilan readily admits that she is an ROTC mom.
Since she moved her six children to Moore County from Japan in 2006, while her husband remained there, Saquilan has always had at least one child in the ROTC program at Pinecrest. She requires each child to spend at least one semester in the program, though she doesn't push her children to pursue military careers.
"I think that so many people take for granted what our country is," she said. "There's this sense of entitlement. ROTC does give some insight about what our country is about, and whatever road you choose, you need to serve your community."
Two of Saquilan's sons, Giovanni and Giorgio, are currently cadets in the program.
Though he protested joining the program at first, Giorgio Saquilan, a sophomore cadet, says he enjoys the program's camaraderie and the mutual respect observed between students and instructors.
"In ROTC, you build lots of teamwork and responsibility," he said. "Overall, it's my favorite class. I like the discipline, and I like getting things done."
He believes the fundraiser gives him and his classmates a chance to connect with troops overseas.
"They most likely don't expect to get stuff from the States," he said. "Even the smallest thing would mean a lot."
Saquilan believes that by allowing cadets to raise money to pay for their admittance to the military, they have the opportunity to earn their own way to a highly revered military event, where students are recognized for their achievements.
"[The military ball] is an important aspect of what the military is," she said. "It has a lot of traditions, and it has a lot of rituals that are very special."
Since it's the season for giving, Saquilan is confident that many troops abroad will be able to enjoy a comfort from home, while local cadets learn about the importance of hard work and generosity.
"It's so important to give," she said, "even if it is just a small piece of candy."
For more information about "Operation Piece of Home," email Nancy Saquilan at email@example.com.
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