BY MICHAEL WALTON
LAKE LEELANAU — A former Air Force officer turned humanitarian activist is expected to speak today about how St. Mary School students' charitable efforts benefit the needy in Afghanistan and India.
The event marks the end of the school's "2012 in 2012," service project, an effort students launched after retired Col. Victor Kuchar visited St. Mary in January.
Then, Kuchar told students about the destitute condition of Afghan refugees, as well as a group of Catholic nuns in India who care for orphans, the sick and the desperate.
"The presentation he gave touched our young children's hearts. You see (Afghans) who are 3 or 4 years old living in a hole with flip flops on their feet, in weather like ours," said Jozell Rexroat, a former St. Mary development director and self-described school volunteer-at-large.
That project's original goal was to collect 2,012 pounds of clothing for Afghan refugees and $2,012 for the Divine Sisters Service, the organization through which the nuns in India operate.
Students instead collected more than 4,000 pounds of clothing and more than $3,700 in roughly two months. Rexroat said she had to stop the clothing drive early because she feared collecting more items than could be easily transported to Afghanistan.
Traverse City-based Advantage Electric volunteered a truck and a driver to take the donations, which students sorted and boxed, to the Air National Guard training base in Alpena. U.S. military officials delivered the goods to Afghanistan from there.
"It should be getting there right about now," Rexroat said.
School officials sent the $3,700 to the Divine Sisters Service last spring.
That money funded completion of a two-story concrete-block building that now houses more than 100 handicapped individuals cared for by nuns, Kuchar said.
Kuchar returned to Afghanistan and India with a St. Mary sign after the school visit. He took photographs in those countries while holding the sign, and those photos will be part of today's presentation, Rexroat said.
Kuchar also will talk to students about starting new projects geared toward helping people in Afghanistan, India and the Traverse City area.
"We don't have to have a Hurricane Katrina or a storm Sandy to reach out to people around the world and in local communities," he said.
Members of the public can attend the presentation, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. in the school's gymnasium.
Kris Popp, St. Mary public relations coordinator, said the school invited several local veterans to hear Kuchar and to attend an annual Thanksgiving lunch that will take place afterward.