CAPE ELIZABETH — An idea that was born overseas, picked up by a service organization in Maine and spread across the country made it possible for 1,500 Iraqi students to receive supplies for their classrooms.
The effort by 24-year-old Cape Elizabeth High School graduate Aaron McKenney, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and the Cape Elizabeth/South Portland Rotary Club collected and delivered 100 boxes of school supplies to three Iraqi schools.
The “Iraqi Help a Kid” campaign was launched just after Thanksgiving. McKenney has been in Iraq since last August, and saw the lack of supplies in the village schools. He contacted the Rotary Club through his father, former Town Councilor Paul McKenney, and asked for its support.
Paul McKenney said his son’s idea was embraced not only by members of the Rotary, but by both communities and beyond. Donation boxes were set up around the two communities, in schools and at community centers.
“My son received close to 100 boxes of paper, pens, crayons, markers – all supplies needed to run a school,” McKenney said. “There were boxes sent from Florida, North Carolina, New York and Arizona, as well.”
In addition to the supplies, McKenney said nearly $1,000 in postage was donated to ship the packages.
Joan Frustaci, Rotary president, said the the response was overwhelming.
“We never expected the amount of support and supplies we received from the community,” she said. “There were brand new staplers and calculators and so many other supplies. It was absolutely amazing.”
McKenney said his son wanted to help the children and by doing so could help improve Iraqi and American relations.
“The importance of this project was that it brought Iraqi soldiers on board as collaborators with the American Army unit when together they delivered supplies to the schools,” McKenney said. “It built more trust between the two armies and between the Iraqi Army and the civilians. It ultimately helps people realize we are there to bring peace and stability to the country.”
In addition to helping the school children of Iraq, Frustaci said the Rotary participates in local outreach programs. It provides scholarships to students at Cape Elizabeth and South Portland high schools and Southern Maine Community College, supports local food pantries and soup kitchens, participates in literacy projects and holds public service lunches for employees.
“I feel so fortunate to be a part of this organization,” she said. “I am very proud of everyone in the Rotary and of those in the community who reached out to help the students in Iraq.”
McKenney said he, too, was pleased so many people helped make his son’s idea a reality.
“I am very proud of all of my children as they do their part to make a positive impact wherever they serve,” he said. “This project has been one way to restore peace in Iraq and make people’s lives better and safer.”
Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Aaron McKenney, 24, of Cape Elizabeth in an Iraqi classroom with children displaying school supplies collected by the Cape Elizabeth/South Portland Rotary and delivered by McKenney.