Dec. 15, 2017
By Mel Ullrich
Achiever Freelance Writer
Army JROTC cadets had an excused absence from their lessons at Arlington High School on Dec. 7 and 8. Instead of studying math, science and history, they learned life lessons in a chilly gymnasium at Christ Church Apostolic on the city’s west side.
On Thursday, Dec. 7, 14 cadets volunteered their time assembling more than 400 packing boxes, unloading tractor trailers filled with food, and sorting the food items into boxes for those in need. It was all part of “Packing Day” for the Christmas Help Program for the Rev. Richard Hunter Ministries.
This year’s packing list: 420 family food boxes filled with hams, turkeys, potatoes, greens, bananas, sweet potatoes, and more – enough food to provide 3,300 people a hearty holiday meal and then some.
“We call this program ‘Christmas Help’ because there are so many needs around the holidays,” said Rev. Hunter. “Before folks can even think about Christmas presents, they’re faced with heating bills going up as the temperatures drop and other expenses. This program provides families with several meals over the holidays to help relieve a little holiday stress so they can focus on what this time of year is really all about.”
Leading the cadets were retired 1st Sgt. Aletha Calloway and 1st Sgt. Richard Woodcox, a JROTC instructor at Arlington High School.
Calloway was instrumental in the growth of the holiday program from its early stages two decades ago. It began with a call of need from Elizabeth Hunter, a custodian at Broad Ripple High School and Hunter’s wife.
“I approached sergeant Calloway, because JROTC cadets are known for their service in the community,” said Elizabeth Hunter. “Every day, I would see these wonderful kids in the hallway. They were always so helpful and friendly – I thought they would be willing to help.” Without hesitation, Calloway agreed.
Mrs. Hunter said the event could not take place without the help of the JROTC cadets. “Twenty years ago, when we started this, I was running around filling boxes, checking people in, and helping them carry the food to their cars,” she said. “Then, during our third year, the cadets joined us, and today we distribute nearly 500 boxes of food.”
“1st Sgt. Calloway has a heart of gold and is very involved in her church and multiple community projects,” said Woodcox. “I was transferred to Broad Ripple at the end of the 2008 school year and that’s when we first worked together on the Rev. Hunter project. Now I want to continue what she started.”
On Friday, Dec. 8, 16 cadets helped distribute the food to families in need, carrying boxes and loading them in cars.
Woodcox said it is always bitter cold when it comes time to distribute the boxes, and the kids have to go in and out of the building repeatedly. He said he’s never heard a single cadet complain about the hard work or the temperature. Following tradition, the temperature was just 20-degrees as the first cars pulled up this year.
“It is heartwarming to do good things,” said Carla M., a sophomore cadet. “Even if it’s cold outside, you’re warm on the inside. And that feeling stays with you every time you think about it, because you know you made a difference in someone else’s life.”
Woodcox said collectively the cadets clocked more than 200 hours of service during their two days at the church. That does not include the time they spent collecting canned goods themselves. Together they collected 608 cans, nearly 1,000 pounds of food for those in need.
“Seeking canned (goods) and other food items in the community, our cadets have set out to help others who are in need during the holiday season and learn the importance of service to others,” said Woodcox.
Many people who received food commented on the cadets’ willingness to help, and their great manners.
“These kids are learning something,” said Woodcox. “That’s really why they’re here and why their instructors are here. You can see it on their faces. They feel good knowing they are helping others less fortunate and that individually and collectively they can make a difference. It’s not a day off from school; it’s a day of work in the community.”
Cadet T’Audra M. summed up the day saying, “It feels good knowing that people who might otherwise have had a tougher time during the holidays can now enjoy a nice, big meal with their families and really enjoy the holidays without stressing about food.”