NU grad in Iraq helps launch school supplies drive
Senior Staff Writer
Somewhere in a tiny, three-room school in Taji, Iraq, a student is writing his name with a pencil supplied by the huge, charitable heart of Nevada County.
That pencil and about $1,000 in other classroom supplies are now at the school, courtesy of 1995 Nevada Union High School graduate and U.S. Army Sgt. Eric Richardson, his mother, Lynette Ellison and stepfather Glen Ellison.
Ellison enlisted Williams Stationery and the Daughters of the American Revolution in the effort, while other Nevada County residents also volunteered.
Now on his second tour of duty in Iraq, Richardson had a surprise for his mother and stepfather when they asked what he wanted for Christmas last year.
“He requested that we send him school supplies for a local school in Taji,” Lynette Ellison said. “He was concerned that the children had next to nothing in the way of school supplies, not even desks.”
She does not know the name of the school, and said some students probably are the children of insurgent fathers. Still, her son felt compelled to help when he discovered their plight.
“As a mother, it was wonderful for me to hear,” Ellison said. “When he was there in 2004, he was all ‘ooh-rah’ and dedicated to the success of his mission.
“This time, things are touching his heart, and he’s responding to them,” Ellison said. “As a mom, I’m so proud of that. It’s easy to get tainted when people are shooting at you, but he’s overcome that.”
Richardson is on a mission now and was unavailable for comment. During his two tours, he’s seen plenty, according to his mother.
During the first tour, Richardson survived the now-infamous Dec. 21, 2004, mess hall suicide bombing in Mosul that killed 22 U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and civilians.
Richardson was waiting at the mess hall next to the airfield for a flight out, when he realized he had forgotten his mother’s Christmas present.
“He went back to get it and when he walked back in, the mess hall blew up,” Ellison said.
She knew he might be there, because he had told her in a prior phone call he had to wait in the mess hall for the flight.
“I didn’t know for a while that he was OK,” Ellison said. “It was a long five hours, I tell you.”
Richardson was later injured during hand-to-hand combat with an insurgent when they fell through a glass table before the insurgent was arrested.
He has since recovered, and the career soldier was sent back for another Iraq tour. That’s when he discovered the school.
“When he’s deployed, I just give up sleep,” Ellison said. “I’m either listening to the news or cruising the Internet looking for information. I need to be connected.”
Being a Blue Star Mother also helps.
“They keep me grounded,” Ellison said. “They provide a safe place for the heart.”
After Richardson made his request, his mother and stepfather realized they would have to find enough supplies for up to 300 students. She also had to think about where the supplies were going.
“We had to use some war-zone common sense,” Lynette Ellison said. “Instead of those tiny pencil sharpeners with blades in them, we sent regular grinder pencil sharpeners.”
They also did not send clay or Play Dough because it can be used in combat zones to stick bombs or wires to objects.
“I sent 10,000 sheets of paper,” Ellison said, with the help of contributor Jody Jory. “We sent glue sticks, colored pencils, erasers, charcoal pencils and water colors to introduce them to art.”
The project picked up steam when Ellison walked into Williams Stationery in downtown Grass Valley and asked owner Dave Williams if she could buy the supplies at cost.
“He never questioned me. He said, ‘I’ll do that and match it,'” Ellison said. “For every dollar I spent, he matched it with (free) school supplies.”
“We probably put in close to $200. I threw in a lot of stuff,” Williams said. “We’ve always been big supporters of the military.”
The grape vine began jangling. Glen Ellison, who is a Fruit Jar Pickers Band member, told Janet Burton, whose first-grade class in Marysville started contributing to the effort.
Burton told Nancy Stevens, who was listening to the Fruit Jar Pickers one weekend in Rough and Ready. Stevens donated through Williams Stationery in honor of her late husband, Joseph Stevens, a World War II veteran.
“He was blown up in the Aleutians” during skirmishes in the Alaskan Islands with the Japanese – an episode of the war that still is little-known.
“He was a 100 percent disabled American veteran and proud of his service,” Stevens said. “I also thought it was an important thing to do to honor Sgt. Eric.”
Stevens also enlisted the local John Oldham Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution to pay for shipping boxes for the supplies.
Eric’s father, Bob Richardson, couldn’t be prouder of his son.
“He’s really thoughtful,” the elder Richardson said from his Nevada County home. “He said the country’s real poor, and he likes kids anyway.”
“The children get forgotten in war,” noted Richardson’s stepfather. “It’s nice for John Q. Citizen to get involved like this.”
Lynette Ellison thinks she knows why Nevada County residents responded for her son’s “one-time effort.”
“There were children in need, and it had nothing to do with the language they speak,” Lynette Ellison said. “When it involves children, this community steps up.”
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail email@example.com or call (530) 477-4237.
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