Written By: Shirley Guzman
Throughout November, Port Chester High School’s Key Club members dedicated themselves to collecting gently used books to contribute to Operation Paperback in support of military troops overseas.
Operation Paperback is a non-profit organization devoted to donating used books which they collect from donors around the country to send to military personnel seeking to “let America’s military community know that we appreciate their service and sacrifices.” The organization came to be in 1999 when Dan Bowers, realizing that his son in law had no access to entertainment and recreation facilities in his military base, began to ship his own used books overseas. What first started as 500 books being sent to Kuwait, became over 2.9 million books sent worldwide. Operation Paperback also donates books to veterans and their families to show appreciation for their service.
Boxes were found in the high school’s main lobby, available for students and faculty to donate their own used books. Key Club members then met to sort through the stacks of books before preparing them for shipping. In total, 157 books were collected, all ranging from children’s fiction to classic literature.
“Our military does an important job and they don’t often get what they deserve especially when they are actually fighting. Any effort we can give is important,” says Ms. Messina, co-advisor of the Key Club along with Mr. Avila.
Due to lack of support networks, whether it be social or government, and poverty, veterans are 50% more likely to fall victim to homelessness, according to Green Doors. About half also suffer from mental illness and disabilities. With little to no resources available to returning soldiers, veterans are left to support themselves. As Mr Avila says, “They help give us [Americans] the ability to exercise our freedoms.” Despite this, soldiers and veterans do not get the compensation they deserve.
“We want to really allow individuals that serve our country to know that they are not forgotten,” he adds. Through Operation Paperback, the Key Club had the opportunity to do just that and contribute to the cause in time for National Veterans and Military Families Month.
With this being the first big project of the school year, Ms. Messina and Mr. Avila also aimed to bring the school together to achieve a goal and get involved with service. “It feels as though you’re a part of something,” says Ms. Messina. “It makes people feel connected, especially after the pandemic era which is something we have all been struggling with. I think it’s good to have a sense of purpose and community,” she adds.
Key Club International aims to create student leaders through service and volunteering in the community. Mr. Avila and Ms. Messina, who are both passionate about giving back and helping others, have promoted those values to club members and encourage other students to do the same through their club projects. Last year, Key Club held a 5K Run in support of a Port Chester student facing brain cancer, community clean ups, and bake sales to raise funds for important causes. This year they hope to accomplish more and give back to the community through the recent food drive, which is continuing up until December 19th, and the current Toy Drive.