Pathways students help nonprofit package items to be sent to troops overseas

News-DemocratMarch 21, 2014 

Cody Smith of Belleville methodically placed packages of cookies, crackers and drink mixes in a plastic bag during class Friday at Pathways High School in Belleville.

These packages of goodies will be placed in a backpack and sent to troops overseas through the nonprofit organization Hopes for Heroes.

Smith, 20, and other classmates in the autism program housed at Pathways help package items for Hope for Heroes on a monthly basis, teacher Kevin Arentsen said.

"These kids have been a Godsend," said Chip Shaffer of O'Fallon, the Midwest area coordinator for Hope for Heroes. "It would take me a month to get it done, and they do it in record time."

While Smith was packaging items, classmates Steven Twigg, 19, of Belleville and Seamus Coonan, 21, of Mascoutah were placing letters and phone cards in envelopes to be included in the backpacks for troops.

"Phone cards are worth their weight in gold over there," Shaffer said.

Seamus' older brother Jeremy Coonan of O'Fallon helped with both packaging goodies and stuffing envelopes.

Jeremy's individual student aid Jamie Krock said the students take care of the packaging and Shaffer handles the distributing.

Arentsen said students in his class, who are mostly non-verbal, have in the past helped package toiletry items as well as other miscellaneous items such as hot sauce that are donated to Hope for Heroes.

"We've done a lot," he said, "a little bit of everything."

Arentsen said used playing cards from a local casino once were donated to the organization, and his students worked a month to organize the thousands of loose cards into hundreds of decks.

"The playing cards kept us busy for a while," he said.

The students in the autism program housed at Pathways High School, which is part of the Belleville Area Special Services Cooperative, have helped Hope for Heroes the last three years.

"The kids learn vocational skills," Arentsen said, "and it's an awesome way to give back to their country."

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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