Students sending packages to former classmates in Iraq

By Tony Parra

Portales High School students are devoting their time and efforts to provide food and hygiene supplies to United States soldiers in Iraq.
Approximately 35 PHS students are helping soldiers, who are former PHS graduates, by sending toothpaste, chips, granola bars, wipes and other non-perishable food items in boxes. Students sent out their first package on Jan. 18 to Aaron Diaz, who graduated from PHS in 2003.
PHS seniors Veronica Hernandez, Jessica Orozco and Ana-Alicia Martinez are in charge of the project. Hernandez said the three girls were good friends with Diaz, who is stationed in Fallujah, while he was going to school.
“He was real nice,” Hernandez said. “If you had a problem, he would help you out with it. He always helped get you in a good mood.”
Hernandez, Orozco and Martinez are part of the Family Career Community Leaders of America department in Portales. Martinez said there are FCCLA departments in high school across the United States.
“I enjoy the project,” Martinez said. “We’re doing a good thing by helping people serving in Iraq. We’ll be more excited when they come home.”
Hernandez said they received correspondence from Diaz and found out what to send to him through correspondence. Martinez said they spoke with family members, such as Monica Diaz, Aaron’s mother, about what Diaz needs. Hernandez said that’s how they knew to send him Flammin’ Hot Cheetos, one of Diaz’s snack favorites.
“He said the snack he missed the most was hot Cheetos,” Martinez said. “He was a quiet person in high school. Once you talked to him one-on-one, he became less shy around you.”
According to Martinez, they will be putting together packages for other former students during February. Martinez said they work on the projects after school some times.
The girls said it has created a stronger bond between the students and the soldiers serving in Iraq.
“I want them to get out of Iraq,” Orozco said about U.S. soldiers coming back to America, safe and sound. “I want to get the high school more involved with the soldiers. We’ve learned to appreciate them more.”
Monica Diaz said her son entered the Marines in Sept. of 2003. She said he told her, “It was the right thing to do.” Monica Diaz said 9/11 had an impact on her son as well and in his decision.
“I thought it was very nice of them (PHS students) to think about him,” Monica Diaz said. “He’s a Mama’s boy and a Papa’s boy. He has a lot in common with his father, Oscar. They both like to fix cars and work on cars.”
Monica Diaz said she has three other children but they all live in Portales. She said it’s been hard on her for her son to be so far away. She said he calls her every two weeks.
Martinez said last year for their project they participated in the Relay for Life in Clovis to help raise money for cancer victims. Martinez said they work with advisor Debbie Stenstrum on FCCLA projects.
Martinez said they will be in the state competition in Albuquerque in late April and they could qualify for the national competition in July in San Diego.
For any people who are interested in making donations, they can call PHS at 356-8361 and asked to be transferred to the Family Computer Science department. Martinez said Portales residents can also suggest other people, who are former graduates, to send items to through the project.