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FORT HOOD, Texas – A 1st Cavalry Division soldier headed a fundraiser to provide school supplies for the Mae Stevens Elementary school in Copperas Cove, Texas.
"It's about giving back to a community that has given so much to you,” said Army Sgt. Johnny Merical, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter repairer for Company B, 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade.
After more than a month of collecting donations, and with help from other soldiers in his platoon, Merical bought school supplies and presented them to the school Aug. 22.
Merical and his fellow soldiers set up a display of the new school supplies in the school's gymnasium, and members of the community -- along with children, parents and faculty members -- came by to hear him explain why he led the drive.
"I've been here almost six years, and have lived here the whole time,” he said. “I'm leaving now, but the community has supported me whenever I needed it, and the school district really looked out for my family when they allowed my children to stay in Mae Stevens, even though the rezoning could have forced them to go to a different school."
While this is the biggest volunteer effort Merical has undertaken, he is no stranger to volunteer work, said Army Capt. Nicholaus Cortez, a platoon leader in Company B, 615th ASB.
"He's done a lot of volunteering for the unit and the surrounding community,” Cortez said. “When I think of Sergeant Merical, I think of selfless service."
The captain added that Merical’s professionalism and work ethic are unparalleled at his level in the platoon.
The school’s students and their families were in dire need of the supplies, Merical said. Joe Burns, the superintendent for the Copperas Cove Independent School District, agreed.
"About 63 percent of this campus' student population consists of kids who receive free or reduced lunches,” he explained. “This means that a lot of the families that have kids who attend here simply don't have the resources to provide [the children] with all the things they need for school. This donation Sergeant Merical put together … will go a long, long way to meeting the needs of those families."
Another school district official talked about how donations will benefit the students as they begin this school year.
"Many of these students are used to getting hand-me-down materials,” said Rick Kirkpatrick, the deputy superintendent. “Just imagine how happy these students will be to have a brand-new notebook or binder this year."
Merical said he hopes that his and his fellow soldiers’ efforts to help will have a lasting impact.
"My family and I are about to leave, but the good that this has done for the community will last much longer than that," he said.