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Sweetening Soldiers’ Holidays

Herndon area children share their trick or treat haul with service members.

Sometimes a sweet act of kindness unfolds so spontaneously and quickly that it seems to happen by magic. One of these wonderful “shazam” moments recently occurred when quite a few Sterling schoolchildren donated their excess Halloween candy to the United Service Organizations. The kids just wanted to do something nice “for the soldiers.”

The day after Halloween, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Aviation Safety Inspector Jack Strange, an employee at the Herndon office, stopped by his brother’s home. During the visit, brother Michael Strange pointed out two hefty bags of candy containing the leftover Trick or Treat haul of his two children—Anderson, 7, and Michael, Jr., 5. Every parent is familiar with the pressing post-Halloween question: What should we do with the rest of this candy? Allowing the kids to indulge with abandon is unthinkable (they’d be wired for weeks), and doling out the tasty morsels in their lunch boxes over the next five years isn’t an option, either. So, every year parents are left stuck on this problem like teeth on Mary Jane taffy candies.

After hearing his brother grumble about his dilemma, Jack had an instant resolution. He told Michael about a fellow inspector at the FAA’s Washington Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) in Herndon, Pete Popsuy, who routinely orchestrates donations to be dropped off at the United Services Organization at Dulles. This year, Dulles had too much candy, but the United Services Organization in Baltimore still had room. What about giving the Reese’s Pieces, M&M’s and Nerds to our service people? Jack suggested. Finding candies that remind our heroes of their childhood and simpler times would certainly be a day-brightener.

Michael loved the idea, but he wondered how he could convince Anderson and Michael, Jr. He approached the children in a straightforward manner, and said, “We have way too much candy here. Would you like to give it to the soldiers?” The kids whooped with delight when they heard the idea, and repeatedly chirped, “We’re going to give our candy to the soldiers!”

When they went to school the next day, the children bubbled over with enthusiasm for their donation and told many other children of their project.

Well, an incredible number of children went home that night and excitedly told their parents that they, too, wanted to give their Halloween candy to the soldiers. Since the parents were in the same what-do-we-do-with-all-this-candy predicament, they gladly sent in their excess, too. There were no handouts, but word-of-mouth brought in so many goodies to both schools that Potowmack Elementary School began stowing the sugary treats in the gym, while Michael, Jr.’s, Chesterbrook Academy schoolroom had so many candies that it looked like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

When Michael went to the schools to pick up the payload, he stuffed his car with as many of the bags as his vehicle could accommodate, but inevitably there were leftovers (which went to the Salvation Army). He and Anderson then arranged to meet up with Pete at the Washington FSDO in Herndon to transfer the mother lode of sweets. The total number of pieces of candy—counted and sorted by the children in “teachable moments”—came to an astounding 14,000. An army of staff members at the FSDO helped unload the car.

To make the eventual transfer of the candies to the USO significantly easier, large plastic tubs were purchased, and several of the mammoth bags of sweets were dumped into the gigantic containers. Still, it was a Herculean effort to finally transport all the goods to the Baltimore USO. Pamela Horton, Airport Services & Ft. Meade operations manager for Metropolitan Washington’s USO, was on hand to greet Pete and the other FSDO employees who went along to do the heavy lifting for the final delivery.

As for the kids, they want to do it all over again next Halloween. Jack marvels about it all, commenting, “It was a spontaneous thing. Everyone just jumped on the bandwagon.”