This holiday season, one young local made it her mission to bring U.S. soldiers overseas a little slice of home.
Thirteen-year-old Lisa Cofrancesco of Longfellow Middle School in Falls Church shipped out six large boxes of nonperishable treats for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan on Dec. 5 with the support of family and friends.
For her Girl Scout Silver Star service project, Cofrancesco, a dedicated member of Girl Scout Troop 6170, launched Treats for the Troops, coining the name on her own.
“I thought of it myself. It’s exactly what it sounds like: giving treats to the troops,” said Cofrancesco.
But Treats for the Troops wasn’t created to merely fulfill an assignment. It was Cofrancesco’s way of giving back and cheering up the troops by bringing them “a little bit closer to home.”
Cofrancesco teamed up with her civics teacher Alexandra Velesz and art teacher Dolores Wimberly, who provided several hundred homemade cards from Longfellow students to send off with the donations. “It was a great pair-up,” said Wimberly.
“Lisa thought that including cards with the packages would make it more personal and let troops know that Longfellow students cared and were thinking about them.”
In addition to asking for homemade cards and dry, packaged foodstuffs, including candy, cookies, chips, Ramen noodle soup, hot chocolate, gum, beef jerky and sunflower seeds, Cofrancesco made a request for Ty Beanie Babies.
She thought it was important to include the plush toys after learning that marines gave them to Afghan and Iraqi children who in turn revealed the locations of so-called IEDS, or improvised explosive devices, buried in the ground.
“Beanie babies are saving lives,” Cofrancesco said.
After Thanksgiving, Cofrancesco shipped off six tall cardboard boxes through Operation Gratitude and Give2TheTroops, two charitable organizations that agreed to accept the gifts and send them directly to the troops.
Each box consisted of approximately 50 – 60 lbs. of leftover Halloween candy, chips, rice cakes, trail mix, powdered drinks and other nonperishable treats.
Juliana Cofrancesco, Lisa’s mother, was surprised at how much was collected. “I was shocked when I saw the boxes overflowing,” she said.
Craig Cofrancesco, Lisa’s father, was equally impressed. “I just didn’t think it would get off the ground like that.”
When Lisa first approached her parents with the idea, they were hesitant. “I was frankly worried that it was going to be pushed off on us, but it wasn’t the case,” said Craig. “I was pleasantly surprised.”
Lisa’s mother explained that Lisa was the one who took the reigns of Treats for the Troops. “The hardest part was reaching out to schools, composing emails and dealing with rejection,” she said. “It’s not easy for an eighth grader to do.”
But Lisa completed what she set out to accomplish. She even expressed interest in turning Treats for the Troops into an annual project. “I’m hoping it will be. It was a great experience. I loved working with everyone,” Lisa said.
Wimberly said that she was very proud of Lisa and all she has done for the troops. “Lisa has shown a very caring spirit. I think she got a lot out of this, more than just her badge.”