Christmas giving: Equestrian teams pay it forward for US troops

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St. Andrews Western coach Carla Wennberg hands a student a pair of socks to include in a package. 
St. Andrews Western coach Carla Wennberg hands a student a pair of socks to include in a care package for US soldiers stationed overseas. © Rooney Coffman

The spirit of Christmas giving came a little early this year for a group of young horse riders, who prepared holiday care packages for US troops stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa.

A student writes notes to soldiers.
A student writes notes to soldiers. © Rooney Coffman

Members of the equestrian teams at St Andrews University in North Carolina filled the packs with items that soldiers may find hard to get while in the field, such as toiletries, baby wipes, socks, candy, game books and writing materials.

Peggy McElveen, director of the St. Andrews Equestrian Center and Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) western coach Carla Wennberg, led the group in assembling the holiday packages. Those contributing included the two-time IHSA Western National Champion team, the IHSA Hunt Seat team and members of their Intercollegiate Dressage team, and staff and coaches.

“It was a really joyous event,” Wennberg said. “Our goal is to make our soldiers feel special even though they won’t be home for the holidays.”

St. Andrews University is only 40 miles from Fort Bragg, the largest military installation in the world with more than 50,000 active duty personnel. Many students have significant others and family members that are deployed and some students are veterans.

A pile of packages destined for troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa.
A pile of packages destined for troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa. © Rooney Coffman

The group set up the individual gifts down the rows of the university’s Avinger Auditorium last week, and one by one, the students passed through the makeshift assembly line and filled their boxes with presents. Students also added a personal holiday message into each box.

Wennberg said that some students used their last bit of funds for the month to contribute to the effort. She was moved by the enthusiasm of the students.

“I had my Christmas last night,” Wennberg said. “It is so wonderful to see the light come on for these young people. This is what teamwork is about and that is part of the IHSA experience – learning life lessons along the way. It is so rewarding.”

Wennberg and the team load 121 boxes into her horse trailer and delivered them to Fort Bragg to be shipped to the troops.

Students pack boxes for the troops.
Students pack boxes for the troops. © Wendy Varisco

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