April 15, 2011

Campus, community donations benefit troops

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- As the son of a man serving his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, Southern Illinois University Carbondale student Dan Wilczak knows how important those care packages from home can be.

That’s why Wilczak, philanthropy chairperson for the Inter-Greek Council, is both pleased and gratified with the success of the recent Valentines for Troops Month project he and Beta Theta Pi fraternity led. The collection brought in 48 very large boxes of items, all earmarked for troops overseas.

Students, faculty, staff and campus organizations, along with community members, donated a wide assortment of snacks, SIUC T-shirts and other sportswear, athletic equipment, personal hygiene products and much, much more. Wilczak said he learned from talking to his father, also named Dan Wilczak, that when the family sent him a care package of goodies last year, he was the only one in his platoon getting treats from home. So, he shared with his fellow military personnel. But young Dan wanted to do more, and conceived a plan to get people from SIUC and the surrounding community to help.

“Dad said sometimes the little things you take for granted mean the most, even something like a Frisbee, a baseball or a football,” Wilczak said.

Thanks to the generosity of Southern Illinoisans, many men and women serving their country far from home will get a taste of the USA, a chance to feel a little closer to home and know someone cares, Wilczak said. In addition to the useful goodies from home, the care packages have a little something extra.

Wilczak and other Beta Theta Pi members met with children at the Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale and helped the youngsters create one-of-a-kind appreciation cards for the U.S. soldiers. Some 100 or more cards will let service members know how much they and their sacrifices mean to those back home, Wilczak said.

Some of the care packages are going to the platoon of the elder Wilczak and the units of other military personnel with Southern Illinois connections, while other packages are going to units wherever needed. Wilczak said the Illinois Army National Guard in Marion even generously agreed to pick up the donated items and cover the tab for shipping them overseas.