Two days after Sgt. William Dunn returned to the United States after fighting in Iraq, he hopped on a plane headed to Albuquerque, N.M. to thank an elementary school class he’d never met.
While surrounded by death and destruction during his year-long tour, Dunn had received care packages from a class from the school.
“I remember thinking, I don’t know nobody in New Mexico,” said Dunn, thinking back on his first package.
As a class, students began to send him regular care packages filled with snacks, notes and pencils.
Feeling scared and lonely in a country besieged by war and violence, Dunn longed for his correspondence with the class, which had adopted him.
THAT’S WHY, just days after returning from the war, Dunn showed up to surprise the class in September 2003. Students were delighted to meet the soldier in person.
“They think I made their day when I came in that day, but they made my whole year,” said Dunn, 37, explaining that the young students may never know how much their packages meant to him.
Dunn, an Iraq war veteran who now works as a recreation director at James Lee Senior Center in Falls Church, remembered that feeling when one of his “battle buddies,” Staff Sgt. James Pettaway, was redeployed in June of 2004.
“I started sending him packages,” said Dunn, who now lives in Laurel, Md. “Before I could get the third package out he was killed. He drove over a roadside bomb.”
Dunn made a promise to his friend’s 13-year-old son that he’d continue his care package program, which has since been embraced by Northern Virginia since October of 2004. “There’s not a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think about [those soldiers],” said Dunn.
A FEW MONTHS ago, a member of the Giving Circle of Hope, a group honored with a Best of Reston award last year, learned of Dunn’s story and wanted to help.
Terry Haas of Reston, who also stars on Home & Garden Television’s “Designed to Sell,” heard about Dunn and was inspired. “He told me what he was doing and said any kind of assistance was welcome,” said Haas, who began talking to fellow members of the Giving Circle.
“It’s something that would be very popular with our members because everybody knows somebody who’s over there,” said Diana Katz, a founding member of the Giving Circle and the group’s grants chair. “What we want is to have our members, and the community at large, to stand up and support it.”
With the Giving Circle behind her, Haas helped organize a supply drive on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, at the Safeway at Hunters Woods Shopping Center. The group will also collect items for the project during its annual meeting on Nov. 16.
“It doesn’t matter whether I’m for or against the war — guys are away from their families,” said Haas. “These guys are out fighting for our freedom every day.”
DUNN APPRECIATES all the help he can get, recalling the early days when he self-financed the effort. But with help of corporate sponsors, including Federal Express and Booz Allen Hamilton, he sent out hundreds of packages last year.
This year he expects to send hundreds more than last year.
“None of these boxes have my name on it,” said Dunn. “I don’t want it to come from me. I want it to come from the community.”
While Dunn shies away from recognition, Haas continues to praise him. “What a difference one person can make with one idea,” she said.